the speed of fashion

2015: The year of designer burnout

A review of 2015 would find that fashion favored several trends—flares, velvet, suede, fringe… and a much less flattering fad: fashion designer burnout.

Designer burnout plagued the industry enough times for it to, by definition, become a trend. 

Fashion has lately witnessed a culmination in the runway-turned-revolving door that has become the fashion industry, as we saw a peak in high profile turnover at the head of major headlining brands. Major fashion names suddenly and uniformly scrambled for the exit doors, adding extra volume to a message they may be demanding to be heard.

Whether the solidarity was intended or not, their flight has certainly achieved enough attention for us to pause.

 Though it may seem broad, maybe even a bit melodramatic, to make such sweeping claims about the full extent of the fashion industry in reference to a mere few headlining exits, it is worth noting the shift in climate. Especially when this climate change is brought to center stage per several major names who have suddenly put in their resignation several major houses and several major windows of major labels shuttered.

To summarize a few of these major departures:

Raf Simons bid Dior adieu. Alber Elbaz retired from Lanvin. Alexander Wang sang his last song for Balenciaga. Jonathan Saunders stepped down and then consequently closed his own label.

While some offered reasons of needing to focus more on their own lines, and other cited irreconcilable differences, there were those who left us with no explanation at all.

Creative directors are the face of a fashion house, notorious for defining a name, shaping an era,  in a way that has made the position the most revered and coveted in all of fashion, thus begging the question, why? 

So why is designer turnover gaining momentum?

Alber Elbaz, a part of the latest exodus, has perhaps given us a hint (or maybe a blatant answer) as to why. This designer burnout is not a phase, rather it is an epidemic, birthed by an industry that has altered demands to value overworking and under-creating. 

At Fashion Group International, the ex-Lanvin creative director had more than a few words for his acceptance speech. 

Paraphrasing his speech, courtesy of WWD:

Concerning the anticipated length of his acceptance speech, Elbaz prefaced:
“I said, ‘I need more time.’ And I think everybody in fashion these days needs just a little more time.”
He goes on to expand on this limited resource.
“We designers started as couturiers with dreams, with intuitions and with feelings. We started with,’What do women want? What do women need? What can I do for women to make their lives better and easier? How can I make a woman more beautiful?’ That is what we used to do,” he said. “Then we became creative directors, so we have to create, but mostly direct. And now we have to become image-makers, making sure it looks good in the pictures. The screen has to scream baby — that’s the rule. And loudness is the new thing. Loudness is the new cool, and not only in fashion. I prefer whispering. I think it goes deeper and lasts longer.”

Elbaz, like his peers, is under the pressure of tainted passion. Every dream job, every type of artist has encountered the inevitable less appealing aspects of their chosen art form. And these tainted pieces of passion, if not outweighed, or at the least, balanced by the rewarding facets, can take their toll. 

Fashion is notoriously a rigorous industry, whose consumers have a short attention span that demands a constant flow of new and exciting production. These facets impose a work flow that prioritizes a facade, cultivated by multitasking and haste, rarely delving into the passionate interior in which true art lies. The result is more the product of pressure than passion. Tenured designers, defining decades, entire periods of a brand, seems to be lost in the microwave generation. 

Creative directors seem to be widely feeling that they have traded creativity for celebrity, a narrative synonymous to the old adage of trading one’s soul for money. The moral to that story is the same, no matter how you slice it: It’s just not worth it. 

The creative director of major ateliers are glamorous when on center stage, but behind the scenes, the extent and demands of their roles are being questioned and then prematurely retired.

However their position, their individual careers, and ultimately, the brand they represent, flourishes under consistency. Fashion houses enjoy and flourish under a steady and persistent hand, and this recent affinity towards musical chairs keeps a brand from establishing a tried and true aesthetic. 

This fatigue is gaining momentum and thus raises concern for the successors. When the baton passes to to the next in line, will generation after generation of creative directors inherit the same fate as their ancestors?

Demna Gvasalia, the newly elected creative director of Balenciaga, has already begged the question of the future state and potential jeopardy of his own fledgling label.


designer burn out

Fashion has become accustomed to biting off more than it can chew, and it’s time for a diet. 

Perpetual ubiquity has taken precedence over creative integrity. Everyone must be everywhere at all times, and it is exhausting. And now fashion is paying for it in personnel. 

The resonating cause of their flight seems to fall in line with the need to hone in on a more direct, a more intimate focus and designers seem to be finding that the fine print instead includes an exhausting juggling act.

Multitasking is the enemy of quality, and this juggling act has stripped these creators of their ability to produce depth, trading a profound art form for a empty shell with a fancy facade.

But which side is asking for too much? Is it the designers, who seemingly have one of the most coveted dream jobs, simply not stepping up to the plate. Or is it the industry, who demands everything from consistent, creative output to business management to measurable growth?

Perhaps, it is a lack of resources for a fashion CEO of two major international companies. Perhaps creative directors needn’t engage in fashion imperialism, conquering one brand after the other, to establish their tenacity and enhance their resume.

Where is the compromise? 

The fashion world and its inhabitants demand the most because it is an industry that has become accustomed to overindulgence. The consumers perpetuate these values of more, more, more because the insiders have served them these giant portions. So when you have whet the appetites of many with outrageous serving sizes, they will be hungry more often. 

These appetites then fall at the feet of the creative directors, who have not only taken the reigns of major houses but also their own eponymous labels. Inevitably they suffer under the understood requirement of excessive, ubiquitous and perpetual product as it defines the value, the influence and the wherewithal of a name. 

In turn, they sacrifice their sanity and their passion for unattainable and inhumane standards.


Timelessness takes time, and the fleeting nature of the revolving door has no place in an industry that constantly turns to archives and relics for inspiration.

Hopefully, come 2016, this trend will be so last year.


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