Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ungaro is DDB.

Deaf, dumb and blind. Yep, that's DDB. No one ever expected the company to have the same footprint when it passed from the hands of Emanuel to Asim Abdullah. These changes always bring an eruption of sorts. The old timers want it to stay the same and the new kids want radical, news breaking shifts. What always seems to make or break these rebirths are owners with a vision, a strategy for the future. Patience with the design team as well as the public's perception is also key to a gradual and ideally smooth transition. Listening to the marketplace, the press and one's own gut is a part of the process, but that's where it can get sticky. It's the listening and to whom one listens that can help or confuse. Too often the voices of the crowd carry more weight than the voice in your head. With Ungaro's owner, Asim Abdullah, it's increasingly clear that he hears and sees nothing.

Esteban Cortazar, the first Creative director to take the reins with Ungaro's departure, seemed to be doing a good enough job. The collections were not mind blowing, but that's rare these days. It was sufficient that he was finding his way and bringing the buyers, press and clients along with him. All was well, enough. The insidious virus circling these grand couture houses undergoing cosmetic surgery is always one form or other of the celebrity. The celebrity face, the celebrity endorsement or the most fatal of all, the celebrity Creative Director. The most virulent of infections took over this house when Lindsay Lohan was dragged from the lowest depths of the celebrity pool to come in and Direct the designer and be the face of the company . At the time I was kind of dumbfounded by this decision. Cortazar 's reaction to the hire, and his decision to leave seemed rash and immature. I understood his feelings of revulsion, but also thought he'd outlast this aberration with just a season's patience or two. How long could she possibly last before she got booted or bored ? He left in a huff and Estrella Archs came to the rescue, surely with the same disgust and reservations of having to tackle this huge responsibility with a stoned tween in the driver's seat.

That pivotal collection came off to a cacophony of boos. Archs grimaced and bore it, Lindsay was so wasted she likely doesn't remember if it was a dream or a nightmare. Universally, the fashion community laughed at the company and not in a good way. You'd think that would be the end of Lindsay considering she was responsible for the lion's share of looks that staggered down the runway, but she kept her head and the CEO lost his. From there it went precipitously down hill. Finally, Lindsay got the boot and Estrella took a pass leaving the house of Ungaro rudderless. What to do? Who to hire? Who to advise? I would venture to guess that somewhere at some point the Vogue Employment Agency stepped in and made its recommendations which Abdulla was only too happy to follow.
Giles Deacon, an English designer with his own collection of spotty merit is the name that has bubbled to the surface. He's popular, considered star material by those who know, and has a career that's on the rise. His collections are also wildly inconsistent. The last 3 I've seen have left me puzzled and unmoved. Using Daphne Guinness as muse and design compass is like taking a divining rod to the middle of the Sahara. You'll do a lot of walking until you drop dead of thirst. Daphne is the rich man's Isabella Blow, highly overrated and suspiciously self serving, but those are magic ingredients for stardom on the fashion stage. Deacon's Spring 2010 collection, which prominently featured Daphne as model/muse was sophomoric, repetitive, uninteresting and banal. Those adjectives add up to a very low number in the new scoring system. Giles has shown little zip since then other than his wildly successful note card collection he created for a very highbrow stationer in London featuring his sketches of dresses. I did see signs of life in his recent Fall 2010 collection that looked clean, minimal and had an esoteric twist that showed a promising departure from corset dresses with flyaway skirts. There were conceptual head ornaments that were memorable.

Ungaro has shown itself to be lost in the woods. I'm hopeful this hire, if it turns out to be Deacon, will be fruitful and not leave them adrift at sea.


hughman said...

i'm always a little confused at how when a fashion house loses it's founding designer (and namesake) it often seems to abandon the original signature that got it acclaimed in the first place. i always felt ungaro was remarkable for his cleverly mixed prints and courageous use of color, attributes that are notable keystones of many collections today. why wouldn't they attempt to find a designer who shared this vision or at least reinterpreted it anew? Lohan and Guiness hardly seem creatively inspirational, Isabella Low-Blows at best, unless being inspirational means having the resources to borrow and assume a fashion look. sequined pasties obviously can't cover the real problem.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why the current crop of older designers don't seem to be grooming any successors. This is done all the time in the business world, but seems rare in the fashion world. It's almost as if the designers themselves don't really care about what happens after they leave/cash out, or work on the assumption that they're going to be around forever (Kaiser Karl?). Shouldn't the assistants be groomed and educated in such a way that is akin to apprentices learning from masters? The way things are now, it seems that it is more popular to hire outside hotshot talent than it is to promote from within.

Amber said...

An absolute catastrophe. I have to be honest and admit that the malicious part of me finds it very entertaining.

Egos, and selfish desires dictate what happens within the Fashion Industry. That's why so many houses seem to flounder after the exit of a Designer. The Designer is too busy basking in the limelight to be concerned about what is to happen after they leave. And I agree wholeheartedly with your comment about the Vogue Employment Agency. I wonder whose interest Deacon's appointment is serving?

st. valentine said...

This post made me cackle. Sooner or later, the owner - who is apparently big in Silicon Valley, belying the idea that one has to be smart to make it out here in Californay - will realize that Ungaro's real future is in licensing linens and toilet bowls.

Also, when will we read about the student collections you saw at Pratt??

Ulla said...

I need your advice on a few dresses I picked out for the MET gala on monday.. can u help if I email you my choices?

Fluff Chance said...

Send them to and I'll get right back to you. Include your # if you like and I'll call. I'm curious.