What do Giorgio Armani, Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld all have in common? Their age bracket - they're all gentlemen in their early to late 70s, successfully running multi-billion pound fashion houses. Despite their collective accomplishments and the legions of fans each designer has picked up over the years, the glaringly obvious problem is that whilst they are all at the top of their game (at this moment in time), nothing lasts forever and eventually a time will come when they will have to hand over the reins to a successor.
Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer of Burberry, told Reuters last month that, "Succession is an emotionally charged thing...especially when you talk about people like Armani, who owns the business."
Aside from being 'emotionally charged', it is also more often than not the end of an era or chapter in the label's life, and as such can be a daunting time both for the successor and the consumer. Examples of failed take-overs can be seen going back to Tom Ford at Yves Saint Laurent. He openly admitted that the late YSL made his life a misery when he took over as chief designer of the French fashion house in 1999. YSL's alleged failure to be supportive of Ford's work and his complaints that Ford did not respect the brand's heritage were the main sources of contention. After four years, Ford left the house.
Next up, Gianfranco Ferre and Lars Nilsson, who took over for the eponymous designer after retirement. The union was, however, short-lived, lasting only five months - at the end of which, Nilsson was fired days before a show. Alessandra Facchinetti suffered a similar fate when she stepped into Valentino. She lasted less than a year. Ungaro has gone through four stylists since Mr Ungaro retired in 2004, and the current state of affairs since that Paris fashion show in October this year must be disappointing to him.
With so many unfavourable examples of life after a 'leader' leaves a fashion label, no wonder the people at de la Renta and Lauren failed to comment as to whether there would be any imminent announcements as to who would succeed both designers in the event of retirement. Chanel went so far as to offer an email statement to Reuters on the matter, which read, "Karl Lagerfeld is the creative director of Chanel and enjoys a long-term contract which is absolutely not put into question...His succession is not on the agenda." And even if it was, chances are they wouldn't let it slip, as they could then risk their favourite successor being poached by another label.
Let's just hope that Karl Lagerfeld is indeed immortal, as many industry insiders find it 'inconceivable' that Chanel has not thought about a successor, especially since Lagerfeld has been at the helm of the label for almost three decades. Contemplating the future of Chanel without Lagerfeld is almost too much for us to bear and it would seem that the powers-that-be behind the scenes at Chanel are clearly going to take their time in deciding if and when the time will come for them to replace Lagerfeld.
They would be wise to start giving it some thought, especially if Armani's sudden health scare earlier this year is anything to go by. Since the scare, "King Giorgio" has wisely drafted in a new deputy chairman, a finance director and a general manager in a bid to ease his workload and presumably prepare the camp for his inevitable departure/retirement. After all, as he told reported in Moscow earlier this year, "Of course I am not eternal, there comes a time when you must hand it over."