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Too Many Brands Are ‘Kidnapped by Creative Directors,’ Vince Designer Says

If you’re a high-end shopper and you just don’t love anything in your closet anymore, blame the constant reshuffling of larger-than-life-creative directors at the world’s leading luxury houses for your wardrobe woes.

Despite all the talk about sustainability, conscious consumption and responsible production these days, “products are obsolete practically before they hit your wardrobe,” Bianca Kuttickattu, footwear design director for Vince, told attendees at Oct. 30’s Edited panel on millennials, luxury and footwear.

That’s because as creative directors steering the crème de la crème of fashion labels hop from one brand to the next, they take their personal brand right along with them, Kuttickattu suggested, and that singular point of view often is what attracted many fans to the label in the first place. So maybe you dropped a couple grand on a handbag from the likes of Yves St. Laurent a few years ago, but “the brand direction has completely changed and you don’t feel aligned with that brand anymore,” she explained, and now you’re stuck with a pricey investment that “doesn’t really feel relevant to who you are.”

Brands tend to be far too susceptible to the winds of change when a new creative lead comes aboard, creating a scenario in which “product no longer has any longevity,” said Kuttickattu, flying in the face of luxury’s favorite backstory of timeless appeal and craftsmanship for the ages.

“I wish that brands would focus their own identities and not be kidnapped by creative directors who are just concerned with their own social media following and their own image and salary,” Kuttickattu added.

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Jemma Cassidy, chief merchandising officer for Diane von Furstenberg (DVF), similarly urged brands to avoid the trend trap and stay true to themselves, pointing to a knit bootie displayed in an Alexander McQueen store as a product that just feels off-brand, she said.

“I wish brands would stop looking at what everyone else is doing,” Cassidy said, describing McQueen as “a beautiful brand with interesting things to say” that would be served best by focusing on its unique voice in fashion.

However, Kuttickattu noted the fine line between chasing trends for trends’ sake and implementing a trend when it’s right for the brand. She described the struggle of trying to insert a lavender shoe into Vince’s upcoming line, only to receive pushback from the creative director. But, Kuttickattu explained, if she herself is seeing the pale purple hue on social media and everywhere, then so is the Vince customer, who might seek the product elsewhere if the brand fails to offer it.

Cassidy, a millennial herself, took her generation to task for saying one thing and doing (or not doing) another. The millennial dollar is conspicuously absent from spending on the sustainable, ethical and eco-conscious products they say they want, the Irish native noted. What’s more, responsible, domestic manufacturing would be a practical solution to trimming production lead times inflated by globe-trotting supply chains. Made in USA would mean no air freight, lower emissions, fairer wages—many of the things that woke young consumers theoretically care about. “But millennials don’t want to pay more,” Cassidy lamented.

Then there’s the fallout from good intentions. Noting that DVF recently decided to walk away from fur, Cassidy asserted that “a lot of synthetics are way more damaging to the environment.”

But the merchandising chief reserved her most candid perspective for the semi-annual event central to the fashion calendar, describing the spectacle that is fashion week as “tone deaf.”

“There’s something so disconnected about a lot of wealthy people sitting around looking at very expensive clothes and then writing about it. And then—the end,” Cassidy said. “That just feels so strange. So it’s this big performance for this tiny little percentage of people that doesn’t really do anything for your bottom line—but costs you money.”

Her comments echo a growing disenchantment with the tradition and trappings of fashion week and their place in a see now, buy now digital world.

As long as fashion continues to exclude virtually anyone but “really young, white, thin women,” Cassidy said, the industry will remain out of step with a coming wave of consumers who will be more diverse than ever and less interested in the societal norms of the past. The industry is inching forward, embracing unconventional models like Winnie Harlow and her striking vitiligo skin condition, but not quickly enough to reflect what’s happening outside of the fashion bubble.

Pronouncing Instagram a “double-edged sword,” Cassidy said the popular social platform is both the best and the worst thing that’s happened to fashion brands. Though it’s an amazing tool for presenting your brand, styles and trends move so quickly that your post from five minutes ago already feels obsolete in an onslaught of content from peers similarly trying to cut through the proverbial noise.

Cassidy accused fashion of being a little too obsessed with the buzzwords on everyone’s lips but not being interested enough in walking the walk.

“Generation Z, millennials, ‘drops,’ diversity, size inclusivity—they’re just words until you actually implement them into your business,” Cassidy said, adding it takes meaningful, intentional work for brands to really practice what they preach. “A lot of people just drop them in, do one little Instagram shoot with a size 14 model and then we’re all back to square one again.”