When you have had the top job at a big brand — when you’ve been that designer, on that golden treadmill, in that spotlight — and you’ve lost it, for whatever reason (bad fit, liquidation, mutual consent), you have three options.
First, sit around and see if another gig comes up; second, get out of fashion entirely and use your know-how for something else; or third, take your future into your own hands and make your own luck.
The last choice is possibly the scariest: It means starting very small, doing pretty much everything yourself and eschewing perks and platforms. But for a growing number of former boldface designers, it is also the right choice. Here, they explain why.
The interviews have been edited and condensed.
Marco Zanini, 48
Previously Creative director at Halston, 2008; Rochas, 2009-13; Schiaparelli, 2013-14
Now Zanini Collection, a ready-to-wear line of 20 styles, with sharp tailoring in suiting cloth, sweet embroidered slip dresses and drawstring-waist pants, in muted tones.
Number of Employees One
“In recent years, it became increasingly difficult to work with big brands, and I realized it didn’t represent a creative challenge anymore. We are all experiencing this fashion fatigue. Everything feels so corporate.
So last summer I made a few phone calls to my favorite suppliers and manufacturers, and their reaction was extremely supportive. I designed the collection in a week and presented it during Milan Fashion Week in February, in my home.
Then I brought the collection to Paris for a week to show to big buyers. I still love my job, and I am passionate about what I do, and now it’s exciting again. I like being niche.”
Julie de Libran, 47
Previously Artistic director, Sonia Rykiel, 2014-19
Now Julie de Libran, a collection of luxury made-to-order dresses.
Number of Employees Four (including her sister, the C.E.O.)
“I left Rykiel in March and dove straight into this passion I have for dresses. I’m approaching it in a way that is a bit more responsible: smaller quantities, no waste. I am sourcing from archives in Como, Italy: end rolls of beautiful silks. Each dress is made to order, and delivered to the client 15 days later.
I also do made-to-measure dresses embroidered on special machines in Switzerland. They are delivered directly from the factory in six to eight weeks. It’s between ready-to-wear and couture. I showed the first collection during couture week in July, in my home. I sell on my website, by appointment, at Matches.com, and eventually I’ll do trunk shows in the U.S.
I think of Louis Vuitton, where I was for six years, and then Rykiel. It’s about quantity and selling, and you lose the knowledge, and appreciation. I learned so much, but I’ve done that school. I can do it on my own now, properly. I’m not scared.”
Peter Copping, 53
Previously Creative director at Nina Ricci, 2009-14; Oscar de la Renta, 2014-16
Now Peter Copping Company, a made-to-measure line specializing in evening and wedding wear.
Number of Employees One
“I’ve been working on quite a lot of private commissions. I didn’t really want to start up a business as such. I’ve just let it grow organically, through word of mouth. I go to customers’ residences or to hotels in Paris. I even did my first men’s wear project: a linen suit for a well-known person who was getting married in Ibiza.
Doing commissions allows me to work with small ateliers in Paris, which are full of talented people. I have embroideries done with Lesage, which is wonderful. I’m really enjoying working to a different rhythm. It was a matter of finding a new life-work balance. Having worked in big fashion for 25 years, you feel like a mouse on a wheel. It feels good to step off.”
Olivier Theyskens, 42
Previously Creative director at Rochas, 2002-6; Nina Ricci, 2006-9; Theory, 2010-14
Now Olivier Theyskens, a line of luxury ready-to-wear, with Goth-tinged suits and bias-cut evening gowns.
Number of Employees 12
“I’m happy on a day-to-day basis to be surrounded by people I love, who are part of this project. We are very small, and we achieve what we set out to do. We consider ourselves a start-up. We’re working with factories and people in the field who know how to do things properly.
Our headquarters is in Hôtel Bourrienne, in the 10th arrondissement. We do our show downstairs on the ground floor, in the Directoire-style salons. Small quantities, focused distribution. We do less than $ 10 million a year in sales. It’s still a little business. I am very cautious with it. I think this is the best way for the future.”