Insiders Weigh in on Self-Destruction in Design

In the wake of a tumultuous series of events for some of the fashion industry's brightest stars—John Galliano faces trial for drunken, antisemitic remarks and has been fired from Dior, while Balmain's Christophe Decarnin missed his show after being hospitalized for depression—and a year after Alexander McQueen's tragic suicide, their peers debate the source of the problem.

WWD reported on the general sentiment in the field, gleaning great insight from industry leaders on the plague within their community, finding largely that issues sit far deeper than fashion. Below are some of the highlights:

Pierre Bergé, longtime business partner to Yves Saint Laurent, whom he described as being "born with a nervous breakdown:"

“I have a lot more sympathy for people who have to take the train to work every day. What a load of nonsense! No, no, no,” he sniped when asked if the industry is to blame when its creative leaders crash. “Designers are artisans who are extremely privileged to have a poetic profession. They are not artists. We have to stop saying that they are.”

Karl Lagerfeld:

“I see designing, running a company, like a high-level athletic activity, I don’t want to hear anything about the fragility or any of those things. If an athlete is too fragile to run, he cannot run. And this is exactly the same. You don’t accept this kind of business if you’re too much of an artist. I believe in discipline, so I’m not the right person to cry about weakness and things like this, but maybe I’m not human.”

Marc Jacobs, who underwent rehab for substance abuse problems:

“You don’t think bank tellers have problems? You don’t think people in the middle of the suburbs have problems? Blaming is such a complete waste. I mean, it’s so pointless. To say, you know, my mother was absent and therefore I ran amok, it’s ridiculous. It’s a self-destructive nature, it’s a mental, physical and a kind of spiritual malady. If you subscribe to any of the teaching of any of those programs, whether it’s Overeaters Anonymous, Smokers Anonymous, people who are happy and healthy and spiritually well don’t do things to hurt themselves.”

Robert Duffy, Jacobs' longtime business partner and president of Marc Jacobs:

“You cannot blame the industry. The majority of actors are not drug addicts, the majority of designers are not drug addicts.” 

Michael Kors:

“I mean, I forget what season I’m in sometimes. And I think it has sped up certainly. I think every designer in today’s world, I don’t care whether you’re a designer who makes clothes that are phantasmagorical or very pragmatic, you have to figure out something that can ground you and bring you back.”

Andrew Rosen, president and co-CEO, Theory and Helmut Lang:

“I don’t see fashion as an industry being ahead of the world in terms of this issue. It’s a devastating and unfortunate condition that happens in every walk of life. It doesn’t make it better or OK, it’s a devastating illness to all those around it. Drug addiction, and addiction in general, is unfortunately part of society today." 

Lucian James, creative director of Paris-based consulting firm, Agenda:

“A big part of the fashion grammar is that designers are expected to add a frisson of shock to fashion houses; and to flirt with the dark side. There is a kind of badge of honor of being an enfant terrible and the work of Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano is rarely mentioned without their edginess being mentioned, and celebrated,” James said. “But the difference is that dealing with edgy themes in your professional life is completely different from sharing opinions which nauseate your fans and destroy your business.”

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