The fashion world’s endless game of musical chairs doesn’t stop even for a pandemic. On Friday, Givenchy announced that Clare Waight Keller, the brand’s first female artistic director and a designer who rose to global fame as the creator of Meghan Markle’s wedding dress, was leaving the house after only three years. A successor has not yet been named.
“As the first woman to be the artistic director of this legendary maison, I feel honored to have been given the opportunity to cherish its legacy and bring it new life,” Ms. Waight Keller said in a statement, paying tribute to “the unsung heroes and heroines behind the scenes, for their contribution from product to communications and retail, and every global team member, partner and supplier in between.”
The news completes a shift in the executive suite at Givenchy, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury goods company by sales. On March 6, Renaud de Lesquen was named chief executive, replacing Philippe Fortunato. Mr. de Lesquen started his tenure April 1.
The fall 2020 collection that was shown at Paris Fashion Week in March will be Ms. Waight Keller’s final one for the house, the company statement said.
Despite all of the discussion about how the coronavirus pandemic could cause a readjustment in the fashion world, changing the pace of the industry and its values, it has apparently not yet affected the ever faster turnover of names at the top.
Ms. Waight Keller’s appointment in March 2017 was heralded as a new direction for the brand that Audrey Hepburn helped build. A highly organized Brit, who had spent six years at Chloé before joining Givenchy, she was seen as a calming presence after 12 years under the former creative director Riccardo Tisci. He had brought new energy and attention to the brand but was a volatile figure, given his provocative embrace of the Kardashian clan and his combination of gothic romanticism and street style.
At Givenchy, Ms. Waight Keller united the men’s and women’s collections, reintroduced couture and courted a celebrity clientele that included Gal Gadot and Chadwick Boseman, both of whom wore her clothes to the Oscars (in 2020 and 2019 respectively). When the Duchess of Sussex chose Ms. Waight Keller to create her wedding dress for her marriage to Prince Harry in May 2018 — a simple design with a wide boat neck, long sleeves and a sweeping train that was almost universally praised — it seemed the ultimate confirmation that her star was in the ascent.
In the statement, Sidney Toledano, chief executive of the LVMH Fashion Group, said that under Ms. Waight Keller’s “creative leadership, and in great collaboration with its ateliers and teams, the Maison reconnected with the founding values of Hubert de Givenchy and his innate sense of elegance.”
Great commercial ambition powered her creative endeavors. When Ms. Waight Keller joined Givenchy in 2017, the brand had revenues believed to be approaching 600 million euros ($715 million) annually. But Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH, saw bigger potential in a pairing of Givenchy’s heritage with Ms. Waight Keller’s appointment. At the time, he said, “I think it will grow very fast in the next two years.”
He also said that he thought the house had the potential to reach the size of Dior, which is a member of the billion-euro club.
That did not come to pass. LVMH’s annual reports do not break out the performance of brands in the Fashion Group (a collection of its smaller fashion names), so the results of Ms. Waight Keller’s tenure have not been made publicly available. But her vision of Givenchy never appeared to gain the mainstream popularity that Mr. Tisci achieved, or reach the sales momentum desired by LVMH executives.
Her collections could also seem erratic. Though her couture telegraphed a rigorous elegance that bridged heritage and modernity, combining latex and lace, sequins and tailoring, she struggled to give her ready-to-wear a signature, veering from upcycled denim to floaty boho-deluxe dresses to, most recently, graphic ’90s looks with power shoulders.
Critical brand introductions for the house in the accessibly priced category — sneakers and sweatshirts — were met with lukewarm reception when compared to rival houses like Dior or Gucci, owned by Kering, despite expensive celebrity partnerships with the likes of Ariana Grande. And Ms. Waight Keller never created that most crucial weapon in any brand’s arsenal, the It bag.
She also avoided the spotlight, eschewing the fashion party circuit and commuting from Paris to London, where her family remained.
“She is a very talented designer and a lovely person who I thought brought a lot to Givenchy, but this is a time when everyone is rethinking and re-examining what is best,” said Anna Wintour, the artistic director of Condé Nast and editor of Vogue. “I am sure she will rebound.”
The departure had been rumored since earlier this year and was characterized as “mutual” by someone with knowledge of the discussions who was not authorized to apeak about them publicly. Still, it is a strange time to make a change in leadership, given that the fashion world is essentially shuttered and luxury a complicated proposition in a world where unemployment is soaring and the global economy is teetering.
Rather than pushing products, brands have been turning their attention to creating communities online, with Olivier Rousteing of Balmain starting the #BalmainEnsemble with a tour through some of the brand’s archives, and Prada hosting Possible Conversations between well-known industry figures. The absence of an identifiable designer personality will create a vacuum at the top of Givenchy at a time when consumers are looking for connection.
As for who will take Ms. Waight Keller’s place, the company said her successor would be announced “at a later date.”