We have recently heard about so (too) many changes at the elm of some of the most prestigious brands in terms of CEOs and designers and it’s probably worthy to go a little bit more in depth of this matter.

Before the luxury groups era, designers were the founders of their own labels, very often helped by close people of their family in terms of management of the company. The only relevant exception to this was Karl Lagerfeld who always worked for brands owned by different shareholders (Fendi, Chloe, Chanel).

Some examples of power couples in this sense are Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Giorgio Armani and Sergio Galeotti, Gianni Versace and his brother and sister, Miuccia Prada and Bertelli.

Since when the luxury groups became relevant, brands started being managed in a different way and managers were borrowed from other industries and companies (P&G among others). Less family and more professional management.

In the new era new profiles have been introduced to “professionalize” fashion: chief financial officers, merchandisers, buyers, brand directors and so on.

And the CEO.

In most of these prestigious fashion brands the CEO is the boss. Every department reports to him/her, including design. And the designer is an employee or a consultant who works for the company.

Quite often the designer is not 100% involved in key strategic decisions such as store openings, production issues, financial matters. The designer is very likely not part of the Steering Committee nor of the Board. The only exception is Christopher Bailey at Burberry’s.

Quite unfortunately some are called designers but they should be better defined as “fashion workman”, with good technical knowledge and not enough brand vision nor expertise.

On the other side the CEO reports to the shareholders and it can happen that this profile is chosen more among the top financial managers rather than among marketeers or commercial people. This reassures the Board that the money is well managed.

A disruption is going on in the fashion industry, as I wrote in my previous post https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/alber-elbaz-do-yourself-susanna-nicoletti?trk=pulse_spock-articles 

So, which is the positive benchmark? on this matter? Domenico De Sole and Tom Ford.

They are the personification of the concept “it takes two to tango”A very successful power couple who took Gucci to the next level, from a tired brand to THE BRAND.

Key assets of this couple:

– mutual trust and respect

– deep syntony

– clear and shared business and brand vision

– great teamwork

– long-term vision and approach

Dom and Tom worked together for 10 years at Gucci and they have worked together for almost 20 years now, including the foundation of a new brand, Tom Ford.

In other cases the situation has been very different.

CEOs and designers high turnover never helps Brand growth and the whirlwind of changes of the last months is a serious threat for the fashion industry as it creates a too high level of stability.

CEOs and designers do not have the time to settle and they are already under pressure to repair the damages of previous managements mistakes or to increase the turnover “squeezing the lemon” style.

In some cases CEOs are not put into the condition to choose the designer, in some other cases they are not able to do it as they come from other industries and they do not have any clue. Very often they are financial directors who have the same solution for every problem. But fashion is not a standard.

Strategic recruitment in a key success factor and it’s never been so poor and superficial. Shareholders only look for the designer that can get the money for the company and immediate awareness.

Cash now = brand destruction = brand value cancellation.

Talented designers hired for wrong brands without going in depth if they were a good fit for the company culture or not. How can a designers famous for streestyle be successful and fulfilled in a couture house?

Very likely CEOs and designers are not chosen to be a power couple. They are not chosen for the long term, for the mutual trust and for the teamwork. In other situations CEO and designer became a real power couple wrongly threathening the coup d’etat against the shareholders. The situation very often is out of control and in the powerful, mechanical hands of the CFO.

Very often CEO and designer don’t want to dance together. A clash of Ego = Brand Disaster.

In some cases the designers reigns and the CEO is not enough strong to manage the process. In some others the designer become the scape goat of the CEO who will sacrify everybody to save himself and get the full yearly bonus.

Sadly, the fashion industry has lost its luster. Less and less a dream factory and more and more a tourbillon of Ego looking for easy cash.

I am strongly convinced that CEOs and top managers should get a degree in baking before managing a fashion brand. Yes, baking.

Managing a fashion brand is like baking a good, tasty, fluffy pan brioche. It takes time, patience, excellent quality of the ingredients and an expert hand. Unfortunately in most cases now it is cheaper and more efficient to put in the oven some defrosted dough. But the result is very poor.

And the customer is not stupid. A fashion customer can tell the difference from an amazing “veneziana” brioche of Pasticceria Marchesi in Milan and a miserable defrosted brioche.

Poor management, lack of trust, high turnover, financial pressure, design standardization imposed by bad merchandisers, commercial strategy in contrast with the brand positioning are all mining the foundation of the fashion industry.

A successful brand needs:

– a clear and sharp and shared and agreed Brand vision and positioning

– great recruiters for the key strategic positions of the company

– long term objectives and continuity

– a teamwork, results-driven, winning mentality

And, as usual, it takes two to tango. The alchemy between CEO and designer is the key success factor. The most successful restaurants are so well appreciated thanks to the perfect alchemy between the chef and the maitre.

A successful Brand is made of this. And the shareholders should know it by heart.

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