What happens if you get a dream job, and it means giving up on your own name?
Increasingly that is an unavoidable choice for young designers who come to public attention by starting their own labels with a few friends, and even fewer funds, and then get snapped up by heritage names with big budgets, reputations and resources. There is one catch: The roles require full commitment.
Such was the dilemma facing Paul Andrew. Last month he was promoted from women’s wear and accessories design director at the Italian leather goods brand Salvatore Ferragamo to be creative director across all collections for the luxury house. His purview will extend to men’s wear and brand image strategy at a critical juncture for the business. Ferragamo, which in recent years has struggled to gain online visibility and win over younger luxury shoppers — and has recently been subject to takeover speculation — is in the midst of a major restructuring effort.
The demands of the new job will require Mr. Andrew to effectively relocate to Italy from New York, his long time home base and the headquarters of Paul Andrew, the namesake footwear line he started in 2012. Though he won the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund prize in 2014 on the strength of his label — and as of January, it was stocked by more than 100 wholesale partners — he chose to hit the pause button. His 2019 spring-summer collection will be the last one shipped to stores and sold online — for now — and excess stock will be donated to charity.
“It wasn’t the easiest decision by any means,” Mr. Andrew said by telephone from New York. “It wasn’t as if business was bad, and I have worked very hard to build the Paul Andrew brand into what it is today. But I’ve been offered such a big opportunity from Ferragamo, and I want it to be a success. There is a lot of work to do that will need my one focus and energy, not to mention a lot of time in Italy. This felt like the right call.”
Mr. Andrew, who began his career at Calvin Klein and Alexander McQueen before designing shoes for the likes of Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan and Vera Wang, added that the business would not shutter completely. The most devoted (and wealthy) customers will be able to buy select made-to-order designs. Employees have been generally supportive, he said, and he hoped to bring several key members of staff with him to Ferragamo.
“I was more emotional than they were,” Mr. Andrew said. “And besides, I might come back to it. It will continue to exist in a small way.”
Nevertheless, there are designers for whom the decision to shutter the business that bore their name proved costly. Bouchra Jarrar closed her label in 2016 to become the artistic director of Lanvin, only to leave after two collections. She has not reopened her doors.
Nor has Jonathan Saunders, who shut his brand in 2015 to become the chief creative director at Diane von Furstenberg but stepped down after 18 months. Regular churn atop major fashion houses is now an accepted cornerstone of the modern luxury industry. So is it worth the risk?
“To be given the reins at a major house is a fantastic privilege which only a handful of designers can ever achieve,” said Zowie Broach, head of fashion at the Royal College of Art and founder of the independent label Boudicca. “Very few people would turn down that sort of job.
“Fashion is also a business that thrives when we shift and move, and sometimes designers learn a huge amount from roles at big houses that they can then channel back into their own labels.”
A growing focus of the RCA, however, is to teach students about the differing requirements of being a designer and creative director. It also wants to make sure that they manage dreamlike expectations amid the tough realities of surviving in the industry.
“Smaller independent designers are definitely the people in the industry suffering the most right now,” Ms. Broach said, adding that investment in new systems that would improve efficiencies within fashion, from micro manufacturing to 3D printing, could prevent some creatives from choosing to leave their businesses when a major opportunity comes their way.
For now, many designers with their own labels take on side work or quietly consult for bigger brands to finance their own efforts. Often, those ghost projects provide the cash flow required to keep their namesake businesses alive.
In the case of Mr. Andrew, a leading accessories talent of the New York fashion scene who had no professional experience in designing clothes until his appointment at Ferragamo in 2017, significant time and backing had also been placed in his business by the wider American fashion community. But according to Steven Kolb, chief executive of the CFDA (the trade association for the American fashion industry), investments like the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize money have more than paid off for his supporters.
“With Paul, who was identified as a great talent, we invested in his brand so that he could develop himself creatively and commercially,” Mr. Kolb said, noting the designer’s “ferociously strong” work ethic. “To now have a New Yorker running a major European powerhouse — in no small part thanks to what he was able to demonstrate with the Paul Andrew line — makes it worthwhile.”
“Maybe if this had happened three years ago, it wouldn’t be the right call, but Paul’s own label feels like it has enough brand equity now for taking a step away from it to be the right one,” Mr. Kolb said.
That point was one that Mr. Andrew reinforced as he prepared to throw himself into his role at Ferragamo. But he also acknowledged the considerable pressures he had withstood before reaching this point.
“I do feel sad, but I also know it is what I need to do, given that the double workload was already a stretch, both emotionally and physically, when I was only working on Ferragamo women’s wear,” he said. “I am proud of all I have achieved under my own name. Now my mind is made up. This is what I need to do to be the best designer I can possibly be.”