Raf Simons. If you don’t know the name, get used to it. The 44-year-old Belgian has just been appointed as artistic director at luxury brand Christian Dior after a year-long search for someone to fill the role.
Why does this matter to marketers? Well, apart from Christian Dior being a historic and interesting brand, the ‘artistic director’ role in fashion is, ironically, not simply about generating cutting-edge ideas and beautiful designs. The artistic or creative director is also a marketer; they are business minds who know how to sell their own personal style to the elite.
A creative director not only designs clothes and accessories but usually handles everything from the brand’s advertising to how it decks out its headquarters. The match between a brand and its creative director goes far further than design. Raf Simons will effectively be the chief marketing officer for Christian Dior.
When a luxury brand and its creative director have the same vision for the brand, the whole business is transformed. Look at what Christopher Bailey has done for Burberry. Only a few years ago, the British marque was at risk of its upmarket reputation being harmed by people wearing fake versions of its apparel. Chief creative officer Bailey has taken it back to true luxury with edgy designs that appeal to its target audience.
The artistic director is also a marketer; they are business minds who know how to sell their personal style to the elite
Can Simons do the same for Christian Dior? Despite being lauded as talented, Simons has quite a different aesthetic from the brand as it currently exists. The Christian Dior brand, under previous creative director John Galliano, was at the most haute end of haute couture.
Galliano specialised in outrageous, stunning fairytale designs that positioned fashion as a fabulous escape from reality. At Sander, Simons’ designs were pared back, elegant and streamlined. While Dior himself aimed for elegance in design, it may be hard to convince Galliano’s disciples to maintain their allegiance.
It has also taken a year for Dior to announce Galliano’s successor after the British designer was disgraced making anti-Semitic remarks in a Paris bar. During this time, it is rumoured that Dior’s owner, LVMH, has approached multiple designers, with the top name in the frame for a long time being Marc Jacobs, creative director at sister brand Louis Vuitton.
Jacobs, a little like Galliano, is seen as a maverick. He has matched his quirky streak (the man has a tattoo of SpongeBob SquarePants) effectively with the craftsmanship for which LV is renowned to create a label that is famous for quality and innovation. Simons is less of a known quantity and starts his new job with the implication – whether true or not – that he was not the label’s first choice.
So, marketers, keep an eye on Christian Dior in 2012. It will be a fascinating case study in organisational culture change, branding and management. These are issues affecting every company, not just those designing handbags worth thousands of pounds.