From Karl Lagerfeld at Chloé to Alber Elbaz at YSL, Vogue looks back at the lesser-known tenures of some of the best-loved names in fashion.
Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, Phoebe Philo at Céline (now rebranded without the accent under Hedi Slimane) – some designers will forever be linked with the brands they have helmed as creative directors. But do you recall Elbaz at YSL, Michael Kors at Céline or Lagerfeld at Chloé – twice? And while we’re more than familiar with the Alessandro (Michele) who has overseen Gucci’s cult comeback, what about the Alessandra (Facchinetti) who once wore its creative crown?
Just as trends come and go, so too do creative directors, and it’s easy to forget that the names we know and love only represent one chapter of a brand’s story. In fact, a deeper delve into the early years of some of fashion’s leading houses throws up some interesting, if not always surprising, first forays from some of the industry’s most notable names. Here, we take a look at some of the style stewardships that fashion forgot.
Before Hedi Slimane’s arrival at Celine in 2018, it was almost impossible to imagine anyone besides Phoebe Philo holding the reins of the luxury French fashion house. But Michael Kors did – from 1997 until 2004. The American designer, known for his easy-casual separates, had been appointed by LVMH with the aim of reviving a brand that had been overseen by the same person – founder Céline Vipiana – for more than 50 years.
Kors took on the role first as womenswear designer and later creative director. Under his direction, the house borrowed from his all-American aesthetic: laidback luxury, with plenty of camel and cashmere and some glossy, beach-ready looks thrown in – the late Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy played his muse. When he stepped down from the label to focus on his own eponymous line, it would be four more years, plus a couple of not-quite-right creative directors, before Philo would arrive (she was still busy making her name as Stella McCartney’s successor at Chloé) – hence why the Kors era tends to be overlooked.
Hannah MacGibbon at Chloé
Following in the footsteps – but, as many have commented, never quite stepping out of the shadow – of her friends Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo, Central Saint Martins-trained Hannah MacGibbon took the helm at Chloé from 2008 to 2011. Arguably her debut for the spring/summer 2009 season – full of scalloped edges, gently jarring pastels, little shorts, soft volume and romantic ruffles – was a memorable one. It set the agenda for her Chloé girl: feminine, natural and a little undone, with an inclination towards wearable, understated clothes; think Kate Bosworth and Chloë Sevigny.
Yet MacGibbon received mixed reviews during her tenure; leaving behind the fun and frills that had previously made the brand so desirable was potentially her downfall. When Clare Waight Keller (now artistic director of Givenchy) took over in 2011, she was credited with rekindling the original bohemian spirit of the house, as well as introducing a boyish charm. MacGibbon’s contribution, however, should not be discounted – it has been given a fresh, renewed relevance today through the lens of the brand’s current creative director, Natacha Ramsay-Levi.
Karl Lagerfeld at Chloé
Founded by Gaby Aghion in 1952, Chloé has also twice had Karl Lagerfeld, now of Chanel and Fendi fame, as its creative head: in 1974 and 1992. The designer had worked with the house from 1964 and for the next decade would go on to cement its bohemian romance through bold prints on flowing dresses that were confident, fun and liberating. Under his creative eye, the brand reached international success, which put Lagerfeld out there as a serious fashion name.