A creative director could make or break a brand. Think Tom Ford at Gucci — Vogue’s Sarah Mower remembers that the publicist for Gucci was begging fashion editors to attend Ford’s debut womenswear show in 1994 when the brand was going through its toughest phase – by 1995 journalists were begging to be let in. Designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Phoebe Philo have established themselves as some of the most iconic creative directors of our time, but who are the ones making the biggest splashes in 2018? Here are the most influential creative directors this year:
Clare Waight Keller
The creative directors profiled here have accomplished a lot of firsts — and Clare Waight Keller is no exception, who became the first female creative director for Givenchy in 2017. Only 6 months after her appointment, she was commissioned to design Meghan Markle’s Givenchy dress in her wedding to Prince Harry. This is probably one of the dresses most seen around the world in recent times — the BBC estimated that their royal wedding reached 1.9 billion people globally.
This is not an overnight success though, behind the historical moments of her latest accomplishment was a long road of hard work and experience working with brands such as Calvin Klein, Gucci and Chloe, and with fellow creative visionaries such as Tom Ford and Christopher Bailey. When she was at Gucci, she even recalled working 24/7 with newborn twins. Waight Keller has a reputation for divining what women want to buy — leaving behind the floaty romance that she established at Chloe in her previous tenure as the house’s creative director, she now directs with conviction the wardrobe of the sharply dressed, fearless women who are drawn to the house of Givenchy.
Raf Simons began as a furniture designer, but upon the encouragement of Linda Loppa, head of the fashion department at the Antwerp Royal Academy at the time, Simons became a self-trained menswear designer and launched his Raf Simons label in 1995.
Perhaps the strongest early indicator of Simons’ untrained, “D.I.Y.” and street aesthetic is that many of his models in his first shows and presentations are street cast— boys who Simons found on the street. There was a turning point in his designs when he started designing for Jil Sander, where he added ““feminine accents and more fluid silhouettes.” to the minimalist brand. In 2012, he took over creative direction at Christian Dior, giving the house’s rich, romantic legacy a modern edge. Despite successes at the brand, he left in 2015 citing reasons due to lack of time to create. In 2017, he joined Calvin Klein and his work has been reflected in the jumping sales of the brand.
Not only is Raf Simon’s work applaudable on its on own right, many leading creatives have referenced him as a point of inspiration, including Virgil Abloh and Kanye West.
Celine without the accent marks a new era for the label with the controversial appointment of Hedi Slimane at its helm. The spring summer 2019 show debuted a week ago shows that Slimane has indeed turned the house’s aesthetic inside out and upside down with the stark departure from his predecessor Phoebe Philo, ushering the house’s audience from day time in the C suite to night time at the clubs.
Regardless of the mixed reception of his new collection at Celine, his directional silhouettes and aesthetic is key in cementing him as one of the most important creative directors of our time. From 2000 to 2007, he held the position of creative director for Dior Homme (the menswear line of Christian Dior), where he debuted the revolutionary skinny denim for men. From 2012 to 2016, he was the creative director for Yves Saint Laurent, infusing a more youthful, rock-tinged allure to the house. Wherever Slimane goes, eyes follow, and do his faithful Slimaniacs.
When relatively unknown was appointed as creative director of Gucci in 2017, the fashion world was surprised, and so was he. But there was no time to overthink it, for he had 5 days to complete his new collection.
“When I started the first collection, I was thinking not in terms of fashion but in terms of attitude — that sense of beauty which I tried to find for an old and beautiful and charming brand like Gucci.” It wasn’t long before everyone was convinced he was a great choice for the billion dollar company. Short of a few seasons, Gucci has already achieved cult status with its psuedo kitsch, vintage-inspired, romantic and gender unspecific shows, clothing and accessories. With his overflowing and ever-surprising creativity, Michele is doubtlessly one of the most influential creative directors of our time.
Vetements & Balenciaga
“To understand what makes Demna Gvasalia the hottest designer in Paris right now, you first need to forget everything you think you know about Paris” wrote Jess Cartner-Morley for The Guardian. Demna bursted into the fashion scene with the launch of Vetements in 2014, and with it a slew of items that at a time harder to get one’s hands on than Birkin Bags — DHL t-shirts, up cycled patchwork jeans, “staff” hoodies. And in a way the writer was right — it is hard to imagine his clothes, although shown in Pairs, to be ever seen with “Parisian chic” in the same sentence. Demna manages to merge the two in an unlikely marriage, leading the pack in a whole new generation of luxury streetwear designers.
His momentum continued with his appointment as creative director of Balenciaga, where he continued to create trailblazing and at times controversial looks.
Donatella was suddenly thrown into her creative director position for Versace after the assassination of her brother in 1997. While Gianni was trying to establish himself as a designer in Milan, Donatella would often make trips to Milan from university in Florence to help Gianni with his designs. She was his inspiration and muse and best advisor. When Versace was established in 1978, Donatella became Gianni’s advisor and took on the role of vice president. She began designing in the early 1980s.
Upon the death of her brother, she took over the role as creative director, but it wasn’t a easy path towards making the house her own instead of a weak imitation of her brothers’ work, as the fashion press described of her first few collections. She managed to turn things around eventually after tackling some personal demons, afterall, they do say your biggest obstacle is often yourself. After being released from drug rehab in the mid-2000s, Donatella soon found the strength confidence to make the Versace name truly her own.
Today, despite all the up and down the brand has gone through, it is now a pioneering voice in fashion, and Donatella remains a revered figure channeling female strength and energy, pushing through and reinventing oneself through both times of celebration and turmoil.
Maria Grazia Chiuri
Like Clare Waight Keller, Maria Grazia Chiuri is also the first female creative director of a heritage fashion house. From 1999 to 2016, Maria Grazia Chiuri worked for Valentino before her appointment as artistic director of Christian Dior in July 2016. Since then, Chiuri has been writing a new chapter in the storied house’s history, using it as a platform to both create clothing for female and speak about their empowerment.
Although feminism is a reocurring theme in her collections, with the debut of her now iconic t-shirts bearing “We Should All Be Feminists” (from Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s barnstorming 2012 TEDx), what got Chiuri the job was her design smarts, honed first at Fendi, then at Valentino. Since then she’s also proved she’s got the necessary resilience. Under Chiuri’s guide, Dior continues to explore femininity in all its freedom and tradition with the modernity of current times.
Italian-Belgian fashion designer Anthony Vaccarello was first trained in law school before enrolling at La Cambre in 2000 to study sculpture and switching to the fashion course, which he graduated with honours. He subsequently worked under Karl Lagerfeld, launched his eponymous ready-to-wear collection and then became creative director of Versace Versus. Known even before joining Saint Laurent as creative director for his sexy power dresses, he has grown and made the brand his own since joining. According to Vogue, “Vaccarello’s vision for YSL—a mix of extravagant, couture-y flourishes and streetwise leathers and jeans—chimes perfectly with our current moment, which, fuelled by the global reach and impact of social media, craves both the escapism of extreme high fashion and the unadorned realism of clothes for everyday life.”
Virgil Adloh’s rise to prominence is impressive to say the least. The Louis Vuitton creative director started his career after university interning at Fendi, when he met Kanye West, who subsequently appointed him creative director of his creative agency DONDA. In 2011, Abloh founded his first fashion company but it is his second one, Off-White, founded in 2013 that launched him into the limelight. The brand’s ingenuity is that it reissues cool streetwear basics as luxury goods — and it clearly worked — according to The Business of Fashion, it was the third-hottest fashion brand in the world in 2017, trumped only by Balenciaga and Gucci. Lines outside his store and crowds outside his fashion shows are shocking, to say the least.
With his appointment as creative director at Louis Vuitton, it means a lot for the brand and the industry. He is the first black designer to be given such a position in LVMH, which means a lot for representation, and with his leadership at the heritage house, he will lead the way in redefining what luxury and streetwear are.
According to Vogue, Sarah Burton grew up in the no-nonsense North of England, one of five artistic children who was dressed, as she remembers, “in my brother’s hand-me-downs—hence the longing for beautiful clothes!”
That longing eventually took her to Central Saint Martins art school to study fashion print design. where a tutor introduced her to Alexander McQueen. She soon started working with the revolutionary creative talent, and collaborated with him as his right hand woman for 14 years until the brilliant McQueen took his own life in 2010. Sarah Burton, with her extended experience with the designer was his natural successor.
McQueen is doubtlessly a tough act to follow, but Burton managed to define her own identity under the brand soon after — preserving the late designer’s legacy in extraordinary craftsmanship and artistry, while coming to her own in making women feel empowered. And here is another creative director who became part of a historical moment in British History — she designed the wedding dress Kate Middleton’s marriage to Prince William, an iconic dress that stunned millions across the globe.