Fashion 101: Designers with Two Jobs

Robert Duffy and Marc Jacobs. Photo from thecut.com

Robert Duffy, President of Marc Jacobs International, made a very interesting comment during a Business of Fashion interview a few months ago, which has stuck in my mind. He had been using Twitter for the two weeks leading up to the Marc Jacobs Fall Winter 2010 show (he has since then been replaced by someone else on the Marc Jacobs team) and during that time, he was quite efficient at responding to questions from his followers, who were primarily fashion students wishing to get into the industry.

BoF: Why have you found these tweets from students so inspiring?

Robert Duffy: Because I’ve been there. I don’t want these kids to give up, you know? I can see how discouraged they are. And I know that if Marc and I weren’t together we would have probably given up too.
And I want to say to them, especially the ones that have talent (they send me pictures and stuff!): Don’t give up. Find a way to do it. I had to. Marc had to. We are still working two jobs to support this. But, don’t do it to become famous or to become a celebrity or it because you think it’s easy. It is not.”

His comment about working two jobs really made me think. Yes, I know that like many designers (John Galliano, Alexander McQueen) Marc Jacobs also spent many years building his career, when he was barely known and designing collections with tiny budgets. But now we all assume he is doing super well, having built Marc Jacobs as one of the leading luxury brands of the world, hugely influential, and touching a very large market with his lower-priced Marc by Marc Jacobs collection. But here Duffy explains that the Louis Vuitton gig is a “second job.” I never thought of it that way, but on reflection, I am sure that Marc Jacobs would definitely prefer to focus his energies on his own collection, rather than having to travel back and forth between Paris and New York, in order to fulfill his duties as Creative Director of two of the most well-known luxury brands in the world. A tough job, and maybe not as glamorous as it seems.

So on that note, I’d like to dedicate this Fashion 101 post to explaining why designers like Marc Jacobs, Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld, and many others are able and allowed to work two design jobs for different companies.

Fendi Spring Summer 2010 designed by Karl Lagerfeld. Photo from Fendi.com

Let’s start with why any designer, who is attempting to build their own brand, would then take a second job with a very well-known brand. Marios Schwab is a great example. An established young designer based in London, Marios has had a lot of media attention in recent years, and has built himself up to be quite a well-known, respected designer. But what are the figures behind his brand? I am sure he takes a decent salary and can afford to pay a small team of people, but knowing the expense involved in running a fashion company, I am pretty sure he will soon realize he can’t properly expand his brand without more capital. How does he get capital for his business? He can get an investor, or he can take a second job, or he can do both.

By taking the job as Creative Director at Halston, he not only improves his profile as a designer (which means his brand automatically gains more credibility, which will lead to sales and the increased possibility of securing more capital for his business) and he also takes a hefty salary from them, which will mean he has more to re-invest into his own business. A fashion business these days needs to sell more than just clothing to succeed, they need to sell fragrance, accessories, footwear, eyewear, a diffusion line, etc… and all of those things require money to develop. That’s probably why he took a second job.

Halston Fall Winter 2010 designed by Marios Schwab. Photo from Style.com.

So that answers the question of why a designer would want to work for two different companies, but why would a brand want a designer who can’t be one hundred percent committed to their brand? Halston hired Marios Schwab (and Louis Vuitton hired Marc Jacobs, Hermès hired Jean Paul Gaultier, etc…) because they are designers who are already very credible and are already in the spotlight. Halston’s first designer, Marco Zanini, came from Versace, and although I have no doubt he was a talented designer, the average follower of fashion has no idea who he is. The fact that he wasn’t already getting a lot of attention in the media made it more difficult for the relaunched Halston brand to be successful (there were other factors involved in that too, but that’s another story…)

These days, its harder to make a brand successful without a very well-known creative director at the helm (although not at all impossible…) Many brands choose to hire a designer who already has a name for themselves, because they will be better known to the public, and they have proved their own worth (being a successful designer for a big brand is very different than being a successful designer for your own brand.)

Hermes Fall Winter 2010 designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. Photo from Style.com.

The last subject is about competition, if Karl Lagerfeld designs for Chanel, Fendi, and his own collection, aren’t his bosses at Fendi and Chanel concerned that he is designing for one of their competitors? Probably not. Brands will hire well-known designers as creative directors only if the brand does not directly compete with the designer’s label. Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton are two very different brands, so are Hermès and Jean Paul Gaultier, Marios Schwab and Halston, Chanel and Fendi. There may be a tiny bit of crossover between customers, but those are also customers who, as fans of Marc Jacobs, may choose a Louis Vuitton bag over a Gucci bag, because they know Marc Jacobs designs for Louis Vuitton.

On a final note, when brands within the same conglomerate compete with each other, which sometimes happens, it is referred to as cannibalism. For example, LVMH’s brands include Louis Vuitton, Céline, Marc Jacobs, and Givenchy and PPR’s Gucci Group brands include Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, and Stella McCartney. There may be times where those brands are effectively competing with each other. Conglomerates try and avoid this as much as possible, by choosing a portfolio of brands that do not directly compete, but at the same time, there are times when cannibalism occurs within a group of brands.

Further reading: There is a great DVD about Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton entitled “Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton“, which I feel is the first fashion film to correctly portray the behind-the-scenes and the process involved in researching, designing, and showing a luxury fashion collection. So if you’d like to get a better understand of the process involved in getting that amazing handbag from concept to prototype to press piece to retail bestseller, watch this amazing film.

Read other Fashion 101 posts:

Fashion 101: Where do Fashion Trends Come From?

Fashion 101: How Haute Couture Works

Fashion 101: Magazines and their Advertisers