Last week, Jil Sander announced she was retiring from her namesake label. The collective reaction was incredulous. But the most incredulous responded, "Again?" This marks the third time Sander has stood down from the label she founded in 1968. The first was in 2000, six months after she sold 75 per cent of the company to Prada. Reputedly, after more than 30 years as head honcho, she didn't enjoy being subject to external approval. Namely, she clashed with Patrizio Bertelli, Prada CEO and husband of Miuccia Prada, on the subject of the business direction of the company rather than creative.
Sander returned to head up her house in 2003, but again was reported to be at loggerheads with Bertelli. She left for a second time in 2004. It was reported to be amicable. That was remarkably similar to the current state of affairs, Sander having returned, for the third round, just last February. Bertelli wasn't involved this time – Jil Sander SpA was sold to a private equity firm, Change Capital Partners, in 2006, then in 2008 to Japanese apparel specialists Onward Holdings Co.
Sander cites "personal reasons" for her departure, while the company states that the forthcoming autumn/winter 2014 collections will be "assured by internal design teams, formed and trained during Jil Sander's tenure".
"Assured" does not, however, describe how fashion professionals feel when told a label will be designed by committee thinking. In October 2000, the fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, Suzy Menkes, wrote an excoriating review of the first Jil Sander collection presented without Sander, declaring: "Patrizio Bertelli of Prada famously announced that he didn't need a designer when he bought the house and then fired Jil Sander. He should be choking on his words."
Bertelli himself rerorted in the paper: "I never said that 'the Sander house no longer needed a designer'. On the contrary, I affirmed … that it would have been impossible to replace Mrs Sander overnight."
If only others had taken heed of Bertelli's wise words. You can but hope that the collective approach at Sander is only a stopgap until a new creative director is appointed, as creation by group consensus rarely surrenders satisfying fashions.
Reviews of the Dior collections presented in the 12-month interim between John Galliano's departure and Raf Simons's debut varied from lukewarm to downright hostile. Maison Martin Margiela's eponymous head left the house in 2008. He has been replaced by a team of designers whose work consists of reviving the archive rather than creating new styles: recent collections have been considered lacklustre.
Some fashion houses take a more thoughtful approach: after Stuart Vevers left the Spanish leather label Loewe to join US brand Coach in June, the label opted out of its usual Paris fashion week womenswear show. Instead, accessories developed alongside Vevers during his final period at the house were shown to select groups of press. Its new creative director, the London designer J W Anderson, shows his first collection in February.
That bodes well, particularly with Louis Vuitton still to name a successor to Marc Jacobs. There was a period where luxury brands believed the "star" designer was a dead idea, instead resorting to design teams or former assistants to steer the brands to success. That has achieved some success, notably Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen.
Fashion needs a clear, inspired creative lead – a team, jostling for power, can't hope for the same singularity of vision. Too many cooks spoil the broth. They're no good at cooking up a decent frock, either.
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