Fashion’s favourite game – musical chairs – has begun afresh.
The latest shift, however, is not to displace a precariously-placed designer, but to fill a place long left vacant: the role of creative director at Mulberry. Said seat is less cold, more frigid – empty for 18 months since the former head, Emma Hill, bowed out (bar her collaboration with the ubiquitous Cara Delevingne back in February).
Johnny Coca is the new main man at Mulberry. Never heard of him? Neither had most of the fashion fraternity. At first glance, his name looks like the moniker of a dodgy Elvis impersonator, or perhaps a pretentious east London hot beverage emporium. Nevertheless, you will know Coca’s work – at Céline and Louis Vuitton.
Coca is only the latest near-anonymous talent to be promoted to a major role. Julie de Libran, the former right-hand to Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, is now head honcho at Sonia Rykiel, while Hermès’ new womenswear designer, Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, comes via design director roles at The Row and Céline.
The message? Forget a headline-grabbing name, and go for a designer who can turn out desirable, saleable product.
LVMH has commented that Céline’s commercial performance last year was “exceptional”. No small part of that came from accessories – Coca’s area of expertise. Obviously, Mulberry is hoping to cadge some of the lust that so inflames Céline consumers (Mulberry’s share price plummeted 74 per cent over the past two years). It’s an interesting inversion of the strategy Mulberry has previously employed, enlisting mass-appeal names – the aforementioned Delevingne, alongside musician Lana del Rey and Alexa Chung – to “design” handbags bearing their recognisable, saleable sobriquets.
It’s a tricky gamble. Mulberry’s woes were only exacerbated when its former CEO Bruno Guillon gambled on increasing prices in an attempt to elevate the brand from the accessible to aspirational luxury. Nevertheless, as Hermès and Rykiel prove, times are changing. Mulberry’s now banking on design talent rather than name recognition. Hopefully, it will pay off.Reuse content