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Power moves that shook the fashion industry in 2015

From Raf Simons departure from Christian Dior to Demna Gvasalia’s appointment at Balenciaga – this year has seen some seismic shifts in fashion

Fashion’s game of musical chairs was more gripping in 2015 than it has been for quite a few years. Each time you thought the game couldn’t possibly go on, another major power player had their turn. This was not an uneventful year. Considering that the positions at play were some of the most coveted in the fashion industry, the results have been nothing short of shocking. We saw not only one or two major creative directors leave their posts – no, we saw upwards of five major fashion figures make moves, shifting the balance of power in the upper echelons of the fashion industry.

In several cases, industry insiders and fashion fans alike were surprised, even blindsided by the news. This reached a crescendo in October with Raf Simons announcing his departure from Christian Dior and Alber Elbaz leaving Lanvin in the same week, freeing up two major positions in the industry. And let’s not forget Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet’s shocking revelation that she is calling it a day with the £1.5 billion online shopping empire she launched 15 years ago. Here’s a look at some the year’s most significant shifts in power and what we can expect for 2016. 


Following a momentous appointment as creative director of womenswear and haute couture in April 2012, Raf Simons bid adieu to Christian Dior this year. In a largely unexpected move, the Paris-based design house announced on the heels of its SS16 show that Simons would not be renewing his contract and would not be showing any more collections for Dior. Simons’ tenure was deemed to be an extremely successful one; under his direction, for instance, the house’s couture sales increased by 30%. However, the Belgian-born designer has been rather vocal about his disenchantment with the overwhelming commercialisation of fashion, and with this in mind, his decision to gather his thoughts and refocus his career is not all that surprising. As for who will take his place at Bernard Arnault’s most prized house is very much up for debate. What we do know is this: Simons’ adidas trainers will be difficult to fill and will certainly make for another momentous debut in the year to come.


While Alber Elbaz has similarly spoken out about his distaste for the stifling speed of fashion, his ouster from Lanvin after a 14-year tenure was nothing short of shocking. No-one really saw it coming, and so the October announcement caught many by surprise. But in retrospect, considering that in 2014, 65 people — almost 20 percent of the work force — left the company, maybe we should have seen this coming. Thus far, the fallout has resulted in a court battle between the Paris-based design house’s management and its works council, threats from Elbaz that he will sue the company for defamation, and of course, the rumours that the celebrated designer is slated to pick up where Simons left off at Dior.


After three years at Kering-owned Balenciaga, New York’s claim to model off duty wardrobe fame, Alexander Wang, is out. In September, Wang staged his final show for Cristóbal Balenciaga’s namesake house, debuting a collection modelled by a cast which included a quartet of young actresses: Zoe KravitzSophie Kennedy-Clark, Julia Garner and Suki Waterhouse. The separation announcement, which came in late July, suggested that the decision was a mutual one and borne in part from Wang’s desire to build up his own eponymous label in New York and land an outside investor.


Alexander Wang’s departure from Balenciaga was not met with an immediate succession plan. Three months passed and enter: Demna Gvasalia, a relatively unknown name to those other than fashion insiders or Antwerp-educated design devotees. With experience working for Maison Margiela and Louis Vuitton, Gvasalia is currently the sole spokesman for Paris-based anonymous design collective VETEMENTS. Known primarily for his high-end streetwear with deconstructionist sensibilities, the Georgian designer will debut his inaugural collection for the house at Paris Fashion Week this February.


Following several years of slow growth for Gucci, the Florentine brand have experienced some major changes in the last year or so. Longtime creative director Frida Giannini and CEO Patrizio di Marco – a professional and personal couple – left the Kering-owned brand and were swiftly replaced with Alessandro Michele and Marco Bizzarri. Michele, a shy guy, who served as a quiet accessories designer at the brand for twelve years, became the hottest “new” name in fashion. In just under a year, he has won over everyone from fashion editors and street style stars to Harry Styles who has been seen wearing his designs on multiple occasions.


On the heels of a string of successful capsule collections for Versus, Versace’s little sister line, Donatella Versace’s young protégé Anthony Vaccarello officially took the helm this year. Known for his sexy and severe aesthetic, Vaccarello is now splitting time between his Paris-based eponymous label and the Versus label, where he follows in the footsteps of Christopher Kane and Jonathan Anderson, who have also helmed the line in the past. Of the appointment, Donatella Versace, who serves as creative director for the house’s main collection, said: “Vaccarello is a natural talent, has both the technical skills and the confidence necessary to push fashion in the direction he wants for today’s women.”


Speaking of confidence and sex appeal, this year saw major changes at Emilio Pucci, the LVMH-owned brand where Norwegian designer Peter Dundas has held court for the past six years. Dundas left Pucci for Roberto Cavalli, following the 74-year-old founder’s exit from the house in March, and made his debut by way of a sheer lace gown that Kim Kardashian wore to the Met Gala in May. It will be interesting to see how Dundas reinterprets the Cavalli archive of animal prints, metallics, destroyed and/or embellished denim, exotic skins, sexy silhouettes and rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic. As for Pucci, Massimo Giorgetti of Milanese brand MSGM has joined the house and will split his time between the labels.


In the US, industry veteran Donna Karan called it quits after 30 years in the game. While the 66-year-old founder will remain as an adviser to Donna Karan International, she said she plans to devote more time to Urban Zen, a company that centers on wellness and artisanal goods. The change does not stop there, however, as LVMH, which bought the house in 2001, said the brand will suspend the main Donna Karan line in favour of a focus on its younger diffusion line, DKNY. Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne of Public School, two New York-based designers who strong backing from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), were subsequently named creative directors of DKNY. They will continue to work on their own street-oriented label.


In June of Milan’s rising young stars, Arthur Arbesser, took the helm of Iceberg, the 43-year-old Italian design house known largely for its knitwear. While the brand is not heavily stocked in the US, that is slowly changing, thanks in part to Arbesser’s predecessor, Alex Martial, who revamped the brand before decamping to Carven. Vienna-born Arbesser, who was shortlisted for this year’s LVMH Prize, will continue to work on his three-year-old eponymous label, which is also based in Milan and is founded upon a youthful marriage of wearable shapes and innovative fabrics.


And in one of the most significant moves of this year: Natalie Massenet left Net-a-Porter. The celebrated businesswoman who founded the company in 2000 before growing it into the largest luxury e-commerce site, has been credited with changing the way the world shopped online. The news of Massenet’s departure comes ahead of the online shopping site’s long-planned, multi-billion dollar merger with Italian retailer Yoox Group. Massenet, who was appointed as Chairman of the British Fashion Council in 2013, was to serve as executive chairman of the new company, with Federico Marchetti, founder and CEO of Yoox Group, to take on the role of CEO of the combined companies. There is no word yet on what Massenet’s next move will be but no matter what it is, it will certainly be significant.