BEYOND THE LOCAL: How Designers Can Maintain Their Individuality While Working in Large Fashion Houses
Previous research has shown that senior executives working for well-known organizations generally value their brand affiliation so much that they are willing to compromise and even accept a lower salary for it.
Recent headlines have announced the return of beloved British fashion designer Phoebe Philo, this time at the helm of her own label after several years as artistic director of Celine.
After a three-year hiatus, Philo’s return is possible, in part, thanks to the strong professional brand she has built while working for others as the creative director of major Parisian fashion houses.
Over the past two decades, several creative directors like Philo have left their prestigious positions in heritage fashion houses. These comings and goings caught the attention of my York University colleague Eileen Fischer and myself, as they are counterintuitive to what we would expect based on previous findings in the marketing literature. .
Previous research has shown that senior executives working for well-known organizations generally value their brand affiliation so much that they are willing to compromise and even accept lower pay for it. Why, we wondered, a creative director – or any professional for that matter – in a high-level position at one of the world’s most prestigious companies would leave a job that apparently can only add more. the value to its professional brand?
The best jobs in the big fashion houses
We provided answers to our question in a recently published study titled Working It: Manage professional brands in prestigious publications. We used publicly accessible media interviews with 20 contemporary creative directors who have held one or more prestigious positions in the biggest historic haute couture brands – including Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, Gucci and Saint Laurent Paris – and identified two challenges inherent in occupying these leading positions. .
First, as these professionals – and arguably others in similar positions like chief executives or architects – gain wealth and knowledge while taking on these prestigious jobs, the energy and time these jobs require can drain their health. physical and emotional as well as the quality of their relationships with family and friends.
Second, although their individual professional brands gain status by being affiliated with prestigious organizations, their own unique brand identity may become less clearly defined over time and, therefore, less distinct from the organization they work for. .
This is particularly problematic in creative fields that require their best employees to possess a distinctive aesthetic or brand. These challenges are important because they can have an impact on job mobility, and even those who are extremely successful face job insecurity and have no guarantee of job retention.
What can be done?
Our analysis identified four tactics that can help professionals in prestigious positions manage these challenges.
1) Transport teams. This means constantly surrounding yourself with trustworthy people who can help them function effectively and consistently over time and in all organizational contexts. For example, Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons, who was the creative director of Jil Sander, Dior and Calvin Klein, carried his right-hand man Pieter Mulier with him through each of these positions until Mulier became the new director. Alaia’s creative.
2) Boost sales. Since haute couture is both art and commerce, that means producing a vision that is not only critically acclaimed, but also results in sales. Hedi Slimane, currently Creative Director at Celine, is known for making controversial decisions like making changes to iconic brands, but his commercial success is such that he has acquired the ability to be bold and unapologetic in the way. which he manages things.
3) Selectively neglect organizational standards. Of course, professional brands will be contractually obligated to operate in a specific way that reflects the expectations of the organizations they work for. But there are some they can ignore in the interest of protecting their professional brand. For example, Marc Jacobs updated the conservative Louis Vuitton canvas when he was specifically told it was banned. It turned out to be an incredibly successful move for Vuitton and one that also matched Jacob’s irreverent brand personality perfectly.
4) Materialize the professional brand in the wider market. This means using social media posts to express professional brand identity to other fashion players who do not involve the organization that employs the individual. Many creative directors use social media posts for this purpose.
The main takeaways are that people who run their own professional brands in prestigious jobs need to find a balance between benefiting from membership and maintaining their independence.
Additionally, employers who hire designers for prestigious positions in their companies must approach the relationship in a mutually beneficial manner.
Both parties win if employers treat key talent relationships as co-branding alliances aimed at the success of everyone involved.