Unlike most creative directors at French fashion houses, Yves Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane won’t work in Paris. Instead, he’ll design YSL from his current home base, Los Angeles.
YSL will keep its atelier and offices on Avenue George V in Paris open, and Slimane will do fittings for shows there. But the bulk of the creative work will be done in LA, where Slimane has lived since he left Dior Homme in 2007.
Slimane, who took over for former YSL creative director Stefano Pilati in March, isn’t the only designer who lives and works in two different places. Phoebe Philo designs the French labelCéline from London, and Pucci‘s Peter Dundas commutes from his apartment in Paris to his office in Florence, Italy, several times a week. The corporate world of fashion is starting to look more like a team of highly paid freelancers, creating beautiful collections with wonderful, work-enviroment based freedom. I personally know of several designers here in NYC that REFUSE to work in the corporate arena for several reasons, many of them based on “stagnating work environments that foster hostility,mediocrity, and office politics”. The fashion industry is one of the few professions that allows many , (if you have the right contacts and connections), to live a rather lucrative lifestyle, will not having to hold a regular 9 to 5. Working as a freelancer is incredibly rewarding, and the freedom is unparalleled. I have been known to conduct trend reports, working on “teck packs”, while sipping on margaritas by the sea in Cancun. Many employers that are opting for freelancers assistance, simply do not care where you work, as long as your work is ON TIME and of stellar quality. But now it has recently come to my attention that FULL TIME designers are opting for more corporate freedom, very much like their freelance brethren. I applaud high profile designers like Hedi Slimane for their audacity in formulating a much needed “shot in the arm” stance, concerning their careers, and the international design industry as a whole. Being a designer is HARD WORK, as many of you in the industry can relate. Working 9-14 hour work days, end on end, no over time, (at least I never got overtime, as I often worked past 40 hours ), grueling deadlines that usually change at the drop of a hat, are just a few of the professional dilemmas that corporate designers have to deal with. If you hold the title of “Design Director”, or “Head Designer”, simply square the above by 1000, and say good bye to your personal life for good. The design industry is a “personal lifestyle eater”, gobbling up any personal time that you may have for family, love interest, and or personal life pursuits. Many designers, when it comes time for vacation, instead of traveling to some mind-blowing exotic local, instead opt for a much more humble location, in the vicinity of mattress,pillows, and sheets, sleeping much of their vacation time away. Yes, the design industry can be rough, but we, as design professionals, LOVE what we do like a kid in cake shop and would NOT do anything else. This is the way it has been in the industry for, decades at least until one is lucky enough to foster your own label.
I have freelanced for about 10 years in the international apparel industry, having design clients as far as Fiji,and never have I come across an article that sheds a ray of light for my long suffering design colleagues, and may have me rethinking my stance on corporate employment. I hope more apparel employers ‘take a page out of YSL’s book’, and began to allow more environmental work freedom for their executive design staff. Hedi Slimane and his other ‘corporate rebels ‘ are right, who says that I have to pick up my life, find a new home away from many connections family and friends, just to work for my dream company? Now, many of you reading this blog are probably ready to click the red X with a deep dish of side eye, especially you employers, but I want you to think about this, what are you willing to do in order to get your moneys worth from your executive design staff? And for you design professionals, before you start salivating all over your keyboard and planning that “work and relax” trip to Paris, I have a question for you, would you be able to highly perform outside of the corporate environment? It’s NOT as easy as it sounds, trust me. In order for this new corporate platform to work, corporate design executives would need to establish a foundation of trust with their companies, and apparel employers would need to rethink their corporate structure, including policies that governed this new creative and work freedom. Now I know a few of employers are thinking, “Why would I do this? , I can just hire freelancers, and there are more than enough designers that will appreciate for my company just as is”. Very true, but what many of you fail to realize is that when you work with your design staff, creating an environment that sponsors freedom of all types, your bottom line improves DRAMATICALLY. Design companies that handle their design staff with an “iron fist”, and or having a high turn over within their design departments, often create product that is “commercially in-cohesive, very disjointed, and unable to hold the interest of ANY target demographic and or building brand loyalty for very long. That simply translates as this, you build loyalty within your design staff= constant design directions from season to season= Brand loyalty, as the buying public begins to take notice. Building loyalty within your design staff would mean investigating different corporate structures that allowed the designer (s) “room to breathe and create”. In an online world where multi-billion dollar meetings are conducted on Skype® and Goggle Hangout®, desktops can be shared via Splashtop®, while cruising 20,000 feet in the air, is it mandatory to have design executives in office seven days week? I say no, and it seems that many premier design labels feel the same way.