“The Week That Was…”

Valentino Spring 2019 Couture – Photo tag-walk.com

Fashion journalists were kept busy after hearing that Dries van Noten and Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli were leaving their longtime positions. While he/she has not been named, according to sources, they already have Pierpaolo’s replacement. Hey, things move fast in fashion! In fact, they move so fast, by the time you read this, they will probably have revealed the name.

Valentino Garavani wasted no time in making this statement: “Thank you Pierpaolo Piccioli, first and foremost for your friendship, respect, and support. You’re the only designer I know who hasn’t tried to distort the codes of a major brand by imposing new ones and the megalomania of a ridiculous ego.”

In her “Open Thread” column on Friday, Vanessa Friedman said she wished Dries was staying because she “loved looking at his clothes and wearing them.” Vanessa went on to describe a pair of silver jacquard pants with matching boots that make her “feel like a rock star every time I wear them,” along with two jackets made from sari silk, which she says inspires random people to stop her on the New York streets to discuss it.

Dries Van Noten Spring 2016 Ready-to-Wear – Photo by Giovanni Giannoni for WWD

“Do you know how often that happens?” Vanessa asks. The answer is only a few times. Ultimately, much of what’s out there is forgettable, and unimportant. Similarly, it’s not very often that a designer’s retirement announcement elicits such a strong visceral reaction.

“Let’s try on the assignment: Conceive an original idea which is the germ of a season’s collection which in turn supports and advances the unspoken codes of your respective maison. Bring along and inspire your workshop AND your Executive suite to get them to advance, articulate and actualize the new ideas.

Don’t leave out media planning… AND do this 4-6 times a year AND turn a profit AND move the Fashion and Desire needle AND remember, this is a BUSINESS as much as it’s an aesthetic innovation.

THE BRIEF is nearly impossible, and we can’t take lightly the guts and heart and sheer genius that it takes to fulfill THE BRIEF. Pier Paolo Piccioli and Dries Van Noten are both MASTERS of their Briefs. Make no mistake- the skill set it takes to lead a house, year after year, is both Herculean and Divine.


Dries Van Noten Spring 2020 Ready-to-Wear – Photo by Giovanni Giannoni for WWD

In this crowded field of fashion, it is rare to find a designer so beloved that many are heartbroken upon hearing that they are stepping down from their respective role as creative director. Sure, there are design talents out there. But how many of them really get under one’s skin and tug at the heart in a way that feels so downright personal? How many really matter?

Dries Van Noten Spring 2020 Ready-to-Wear – Photo by Launchmetrics for The Impression

There’s almost no designer whose runways are more rousing from a creative point of view than Dries, who routinely mixes day and evening, street and couture, masculine and feminine, high and low, humble and fanciful. He masters the mix, creating eclectic, individual, and highly personal collections.

Dries Van Noten Fall 2024 Ready-to-Wear – Photo by Giovanni Giannoni for WWD

Dries is adept at making the ordinary extraordinary and the everyday sublime, which are the watchwords of the fall 2024 season. Very few people do this better and more consistently than Dries, whose collections never look dated.

Valentino Fall 2021 Couture – Photo by Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

Dries and Pierpaolo have different design credos, but what unites them is a chic, unfailing taste level, a disdain for vulgarity, and the emotion, elegance, and sophistication they bring to their highly recognizable, happily untrend-driven creations. The same can be said about the late Alber Elbaz.

Alber Elbaz backstage Lanvin at his fall 2002/Ready-to-Wear show – Photo by Delphine Achard WWD

Mr. Elbaz, who passed away in 2021, is another designer with an uncanny ability to tap into what women want. His death left a real void to this day because he was so unique. Alber poured so much passion and emotion into his designs.

Alber gave his all to his customers. He once said that when his collections are successful, he first think’s not how much money he makes but how many hugs from his customers he will get.

Donna Karan Seven Easy Pieces, 1985 – Photo by donnakaran.com

Then there’s Donna Karan, one of a handful of elite designers who helped shape the fashion industry. Named “The “Queen of Seventh Avenue” in 1985, Donna created capsule wardrobes and built her easy, luxurious, and womanly design sensibility into a global presence and a lifestyle brand.

In 1997, Karan left her CEO position but stayed on as chairwoman and designer for the Donna Karan line. LVMH bought Donna Karan in 2002 for around $243 million. In 2016, G-111 acquired the brand for $650 million. Had she retired during her heyday in the 1980s, Donna’s announcement would no doubt have resulted in the same sort of heartache being felt by fans of Dries and Pierpaolo this week.

Donna Karan New York – Photo by Annie Leibovitz

While Karan is not personally involved, the recent relaunch of Donna Karan New York by G-111 Apparel Group has Donna’s unmistakable signature — but at a very low price. The advertising campaign, featuring the eight iconic supermodels shot by Annie Leibovitz, are alluring and admittedly draw you in.

I was a bit disappointed when I first clicked on to see the offerings for sale because naturally, they don’t really look like the promotional photos and not all the designs featured are on the website. I assume they will be in the future.

Donna Karan New York – Photographed by Annie Leibovitz

But I took another look, understanding that this is not meant to be a high-end line but rather something far more accessible. Most of the clothing is priced at well under $200, and it offers the customer something chic to wear at a price they can afford.

Still, the overall look of the collection is a bit generic, if not a touch old-fashioned and “dressy.” I would like more eased-up playfulness in the styling and fewer high heels. Inexpensive websites can look fabulous — check out Zara and H&M.

“I’m really impressed with the Donna Karan New York collection and how well creative director Trey Laird has managed to capture the spirit of Donna at these rock-bottom prices. This is what the world has come to now: the low-end selling of high-end names. This collection has identity!”

Robert Lee Morris

Donna Karan New York – Photo donnakaran.com

The best pieces are hands down rendered in black or black and white and accessorized with gold sculptural jewelry by—who else—Robert Lee Morris, of course. For the website, they are using some of Robert’s exclusive archival pieces mixed in with his less expensive Centric line. While no jewelry is currently available, it will be in the future.

Double Breasted Blazer, $198 – Photo donnakaran.com

“This is the way all the big designers seem to be going. It happened to me, and it happened to Donna,” says Robert, whom I spoke to by phone on Saturday. Robert was contacted at the planning stages to see if he could manufacture jewelry for the Karan relaunch. He thinks they have done a great job capturing the lines, creating the illusion of luxury, and styling the jewelry to look like the old Donna Karan.

White Cotton Collared Button Down Shirt, $99 – Photo donnakaran.com

Robert doesn’t think Donna should be upset because it is a natural evolution of what’s happening in fashion and our marketplace, which has been decimated thanks to many factors, including COVID-19. G-111, the conglomerate that owns the collection, believes this could be a billion-dollar business because of the price points. Perhaps they are right.

Meanwhile, considering how fashion is going, wouldn’t it be great if Dries and Pierpaolo, who will soon be out of work, began designing a desirable and affordable collection? I’m just saying.

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. I discovered Dries 15 years ago as I was walking through Barbeys NY in LA. There was this amazing coat with wool, silk and embroidery. I was halted by it. It was on sale for # 1300.00. I never spent thT much on a piece of clothing and walked away I went
    T out of the store and something was tugging at me that I must get this piece of Art and forgo fast fashion. I went back and bought it. I still have it and love it. I have a lively collection of Dries which I will hold on to forever. I had advance notice of him leaving but still shocked when it was confirmed. I am happy he is happy and pray his successor stays true to the brand.

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