five ways to end your fashion design career

Christobel Balenciaga chose when to retire, saying “it’s a dog’s life”. It is a rare designer who can exit so gracefully. From history, here are five more ways to drop out as a fashion designer.

1. Sell Out.

Halston had genuine talent, sublime taste, and a compelling personality. But his career ended prematurely, and he lived out the end of his days in gilded isolation, designer no more. How?

  1. Sell your company for an outrageous amount of money.
  2. Party like no party animal has ever partied before, because you can. After all, your glamourous lifestyle in no small part defines your brand.
  3. Be the “consummate professional” by refusing to delegate anything.
  4. Why be satisfied with mere millions of dollars? License your name until it loses its lustre. Forget you said “you’re only as good as the people you dress.”

2. Fade Out.

Christian Lacroix is an expert colourist who revels in embellishment, celebrating the history and craft of French couture with signature verve.  Lacroix’s star never manifested in a way that matched his considerable talent. Why?

  1. Start your career with a one-hit-wonder (the pouf skirt) which is a pure trend item. Little-girl inspired clothing at prices only rich old ladies can afford.
  2. Nurture an over-the-top design style which appeals only to a small niche and is difficult to translate into accessories or ready-to-wear.
  3. Earn the faith and support of businessmen who should know better. Launch a business which fails to profit, ever, over the course of a decade.
  4. Produce your final collection on a shoestring, destined never to be delivered anywhere, and receive applause for belonging to an era of fashion which was ending just as you began your career.

3. Fall Out.

Ossie Clark was a designer whose designs not only resonate with fashion, but were created using masterful techniques. Clark never managed, and maybe never even really tried, to translate design genius into an empire. How?

  1. Be impractical, especially when it comes to money. Disregard dull matters of business.
  2. Live in the present moment, fully. Hang with rock stars. Work manically. Party hedonistically.
  3. Get bailed out by a high-street shop. Chafe at the restrictions of designing for mass production.
  4. Be difficult. Meet your Waterloo in the form of a complex, unmanufacturable sleeve inspired by shells. Get fired.

4. Flame Out.

John Galliano is a devourer of inspiration who produced transgressive, hyperactive runway fantasies that resurrected that sleeping giant of a couture house, Christian Dior. But his career is ending in disgrace. How?

  1. Enter a five+ year design funk. Raising the bar on past transgressions using the same techniques you always have delivers diminishing returns.
  2. Deal with your fading fortunes by turning to drink and drugs. Surround yourself with famous, sympathetic sycophants who shrug off your dependencies as if they are adorable quirks.
  3. Drink alone in public places, and wait for provocation. And then say the most provocative, illegal things you can think of, because you deeply crave some kind of reaction, any reaction.
  4. Become a victim of modern surveillance culture, and receive career-destroying blowback beyond your wildest expectations.

5. Eat Out.

Rudi Gernreich was a true fashion innovator with a keen ability to cook publicity into his designs, pushing the envelope of modernity and taste. His various attempts to sell out never came to any lasting fruition. In a bizarre branding derailment, his final venture lent his name to a line of soup. How?

  1. Generate large amounts of publicity. Be better at spreading ideas than selling clothes.
  2. Stay resolutely West Coast. Location matters – even more so half a century ago than it does today.
  3. Design yourself into a corner – deconstruct swimwear to the point that it barely exists, push androgyny to the level where tension between gender conventions is a moot point.
  4. Never mind fashion, make soup. Soup is more nutritious than fashion.


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10 thoughts on “five ways to end your fashion design career”

  1. I love this! I’m always encouraged by designers who choose to retire, so many seem to work until they die or crash & burn like the ones you’ve listed.

  2. Good article! You forgot fighting with the conglomerate big boss/puppeteer. Unless the designer starts their own label or gets another wave making gig, they become less relevant like Olivier Theyskens. Money men aren’t good at matching the visions of designers with the aesthetic of their lines either. So every influential designer should get a pet project, their own label, to get out all the pent up creativity they have to tame for their main one.

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