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THE MARK: CREATIVE DIRECTOR AS A CHARISMATIC LEADER

Traditionally, the legitimacy of luxury goods entails finesse of craftsmanship and use of finest materials. The vivid example of such a concept is demonstrated by the House of Hermès, an ultra luxury brand founded in France in 1837 specializing in complete lines of leather goods, silk, home, bed and bath linens, furniture, silverware, crystal, porcelain, office accessories, and baby gifts. But their iconic status has been developed around handbags hand-crafted by skilled artisans using same ancient traditions of saddle-making for centuries. 

Regardless their astronomical prices ranging $2K-$250K apiece, the acquisition of their status bags, such as Hermès Kelly or Hermès Birkin, is quite exclusive and could take some waiting for an elite customer who desires a coveted piece to be hand-crafted per her specifications. 

Yet, their dedicated customers continue to shop with Hermès. And it is not only the exquisite craftsmanship, attention to detail and utmost quality that motivates them to stay loyal to the brand, but mostly its aura, legacy and heritage. 

In addition, there is another important element necessary for successful branding: a charisma of its Creative Director, whose personal vision and image convey a brand's message. Thus, relentless cultivation of such a charismatic vision at a brand's heart could become quite a powerful marketing strategy. While a creative leader's charisma strongly reflects a brand's symbolism, carefully crafted advertising campaigns highlighting that symbolism would ingrain it into a consumer's mind even deeper.  

Alexander McQueen         

       

For example, dramatic intensity of Alexander McQueen's designs that challenge the conventional standards of beauty has created an enigmatic emotional bond with the brand, whose collections are highly coveted in retail world. Even after the founder's death, his legacy has been carried on by the newly appointed Creative Director, Sarah Burton. The image of Alexander McQueen's enigmatic persona and his enormous artistic talent - that has been driving the unprecedented interest among customers, artists and musicians all over the world for so many years - is still relevant today, as indicated by the recent London installation, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”, bringing in about 662 thousand visitors between May 4 and August 7 in 2015. 

However, there is also a question if there is a magic formula of success in luxury branding, which helps some creative directors to enjoy continued success of their vision even after death, while others fail to establish their legacy. 

Comes to mind the recent example of Alexander Wang's departure from Balenciaga. When in 2012 the New York designer was appointed as a Creative Director, they had big hopes for him to induce the French brand with his young spirit of cutting edge designs. The innovative styles by Cristóbal Balenciaga seemed to be a great match with Alexander Wang's free-spirited styles driven by street fashion. The Kering CEO and chairman François-Henri Pinault was quick to praise his creativity and ability to reinterpret the Balenciaga heritage in his modern, contemporary way. 

Unfortunately, only three years later, Kering decided not to renew his contract. Many argue that the reason why Alexander Wang failed was his inability to follow Nicolas Ghesquière's success, who was his predecessor for almost fifteen years. Presumably, Alexander Wang's vision was not powerful enough to carry the Balenciaga brand's legacy and heritage. Even though he reinterpreted and presented Balenciaga collections quite successfully, his aesthetic vision lacked the qualities of a charismatic leader. 

To put it short, the cultivation of brand's aura to emphasize its cultural heritage, historical legacy and charismatic leadership is paramount for creating customer's appeal and desire to become affiliated with the brand's lifestyle and aesthetic ideology. Failure to recognize these components of successful branding could result in crisis or over-extension due to brand's democratization and loss of exclusivity.

 

Resources:

Vogue UK online magazine. http://www.vogue.co.uk. Alexander Wang Named Balenciaga Creative Director. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1TU7EKK

Business of fashion. Alexander Wang to Exit Balenciaga, Says Report. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1DamFAi

FASHIONISTA.COM. "Alexander McQueen: Savage beauty" beat attendance records in London, too. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/1SJ5rkL  

 

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