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Who is Chloé's new creative director Chemena Kamali?

By Jule Scott


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Chemena Kamali, new creative director of Chloé. Credits: Chloé, photo by David Sims.

For Chemena Kamali, the appointment as creative director of Chloé marks a return to her fashion roots. But who is the newly minted designer of the French luxury fashion house that will follow in the footsteps of Gabriela Hearst?

The name Kamali was probably not an instant household name to most people before her appointment on Monday, however, the 41-year-old from Düsseldorf, Germany, has been working behind the scenes of various renowned fashion houses for more than 20 years.

The choice of designers like Kamali, who has so far mostly demonstrated her skills in silence, is currently gaining in appeal in fashion. In recent years, major luxury fashion brands - with the exception of Pharrell Williams at Louis Vuitton - have seemed increasingly reluctant to hire already established designers. Rather, the tactic of paving the way for talents from their own ranks or promising design directors from other brands is currently proving successful, as was the case with Matthieu Blazy at Bottega Veneta, Sabato De Sarno at Gucci or Peter Hawkings at Tom Ford, among others. Seán McGirr is another recent example of a new arrival alongside Kamali. The recently appointed successor to Sarah Burton as creative director of Alexander McQueen has so far mostly acted behind the scenes.

From Trier, via London to Paris

Both Kamali and McGirr studied at Central Saint Martins fashion school in London under the late Professor Louise Wilson, a driving force and mentor to many English fashion designers, such as Alexander McQueen and Phoebe Philo.

Kamali's fashion journey, however, began in Germany, where she studied fashion design at the Trier University of Applied Sciences, according to the industry magazine WWD. This was followed by an initial and obviously formative period at Chloé under then creative director Philo, who was at the helm of the French fashion house from 2001 to 2006, before Kamali graduated with honours from Central Saint Martens with a Masters in Fashion Design in 2007. Stints at luxury fashion brand Alberta Ferretti and Strenesse followed over the years, before her initial return to Chloé in 2013 - this time as design director during Clare Waight Keller's time as creative director.

It is unclear exactly when Kamali left Chloé for the second time, but it was the German designer who, together with designer Lucio Finale, replaced then creative director Alber Elbaz for the autumn/winter 2016 collection at luxury fashion house Lanvin. Shortly after, she joined Saint Laurent as Women's Ready to Wear design director alongside then newly minted creative director Anthony Vaccarello. Earlier this year, the designer moved to Los Angeles to support denim brand Frame as a creative consultant for the autumn/winter 2023 collection.

Now the designer is back in Paris, and not too surprisingly, as Kamali was rumoured to be the first choice for the role of creative director at Chloé even before Hearst's official departure. Since July, reports initiated by the industry magazine Business of Fashion had been circulating about a parallel design studio headed by Kamali at the French luxury brand, even if it was still unclear at the time whether this actually pointed to Hearst's departure. For the creative director-designate, however, her return seems both natural and an absolute affair of the heart. "My heart has always belonged to Chloé," Kamali said in a statement on Monday. "Ever since I stepped through the doors more than 20 years ago. Coming back feels natural and very personal."

Chloé continues to focus on women's voice in the industry

The appointment of Kamali not only joins the current preferred choice of hidden talent, but also adds to the perennial debate about the fashion industry being dominated by male designers, especially given the history of them mostly designing ready-to-wear collections for women.

Although the design studios of industry giants such as Chanel and Dior are currently headed by women, with Virginie Viard and Maria Grazia Chiuri, the field of female creative directors is conspicuously thin on the ground. Little wonder then that the appointment of McGirr to succeed Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen sparked a heated debate in the fashion industry, because with him, all the top creative positions at McQueen's parent company Kering, which also owns Gucci, Givenchy and Saint Laurent among others, are now held by white men.

In contrast, Chloé has been run by women since its inception - with a few, but all the more famous, exceptions such as Karl Lagerfeld - since it was founded by Gaby Aghion in 1952. These women, including Aghion, Philo, Hearst, Keller and Stella McCartney, are celebrated in the exhibition "Mood of the Moment: Gaby Aghion and the House of Chloé" at the Jewish Museum in New York, which will open its doors on 13 October.

The fashion industry will have to wait a little longer to catch a first glimpse of Kamali's vision for Chloé. Her first pre-fall collection will be unveiled in January, before a runway debut for autumn/winter 2024 in February. However, Chloé CEO Riccardo Bellini is already optimistic: "Chemena's vision, inspired by her love for the brand, will truly celebrate Chloé's unique DNA. Chemena is both the creative director of Chloé and the embodiment of the spirit of Chloé."