Is Bernard Arnault Through With “Star” Designers?

He is the most powerful man in fashion, through buyouts, mergers and brutal takeovers he has grown his multi-billion dollar empire to include Louis Vuitton, Donna Karan and Christian Dior to name just a few; he is the one who brought Marc Jacobs to Louis Vuitton and Alexander McQueen to Givenchy so it is no surprise that when Bernard Arnault speaks the whole of the fashion world listens. However what is very surprising to many in the industry these past few months is Mr. Arnault’s silence, specifically when it comes to filling the void that John Galliano left at Dior.

For the last 20 years Mr. Arnault, Chairman and CEO of French mega-conglomerate LVMH (Moet Hennessdy Louis Vuitton), has shown a preternatural gift for finding diamonds in the rough when it comes to fashion designers. More often then not Mr. Arnault’s discoveries have been larger than life figures who bring their own cult of personality with them. For example in the 15 years that he served as creative director at Dior, John Galliano behaved more like a rock star than a designer, his flamboyant and often controversial antics seemed the perfect example of a luxury fashion world driven by stars, hype and gossip. A fashion world that Mr. Arnault had all but created.

Then this past March Mr. Galliano’s controversial behavior finally crossed the line in the form of an anti-Semitic, expletive laden tirade he unleashed on patrons of a Paris bistro, his rapid fall from grace would come to reveal serious substance abuse problems as well as other mental health issues and would lead many to question the wisdom of building fashion houses around such volatile egos. Here is where the fashion world expected Mr. Arnault to come to the defense of many of his other larger-than-life designers or point out that Galliano was one man and not a sign of the times. Instead Mr. Arnault seems to have turned his attention away from the brash and head turning bad boys (and girls) of fashion, preferring to lavish praise on a completely different type of designer.

If you look for compliments from Mr. Arnault these days he will probably deliver them to the likes of Phoebe Philo, who Arnault recently brought to his Celine label. Unlike the McQueens, Jacobs and Gallianos of the fashion world Ms. Philo maintains a very low profile, and has slowly brought measured change to the Celine brand rather than seeking to turn the house on its ear as many of Arnault’s other chosen designers have in the past. In his search for a replacement for Galliano, Mr. Arnault has pursued the antithesis of his former creative director, approaching Azzedine Alaia who is a private man to say the least, in the hopes that he would fill the void. Alas Mr. Alaia turned Mr. Arnault down and as such the search continues, albeit with far less fervor and fanfare then the industry is used to seeing from Mr. Arnault.

To many it now seems as though Mr. Arnault has changed his approach. In a recent interview with Newsweek he spoke of how designers like Galliano come and go but “A good product, can last forever.” So it would seem the Bernard Arnault has had enough of the super star designers that he once championed, and the question now is will the fashion world continue looking for it’s next star or will it again follow Mr. Arnault as he moves to reinstate the quiet craftsman as the heart of his fashion empire?

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