Changing face of fashion: Designers who moved house in 2023, from Sarah Burton to Tom Ford

This year also marked the passing of Marc Bohan, Paco Rabanne and Dame Mary Quant

A look from the final collection of Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. Photo: Alexander McQueen
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Fashion never stops moving. Not only do cuts, hems and colours evolve from runway to rack, but designers and creative directors also move brands so that the industry is in a constant state of beautiful, chaotic flux.

Each month of 2023 has been true to form with an ever-revolving door of who was in, and who was out. This year also marked the loss of three fashion legends: Marc Bohan, Paco Rabanne and Dame Mary Quant.

Guesswork at Gucci

After the shock departure of Alessandro Michele from Gucci in November 2022, the Italian house named Sabato De Sarno as his successor in January.

Having worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Prada, Valentino and Dolce & Gabanna, De Sarno presented his first collection for Gucci in September. Rather than offering a new direction, however, De Sarno looked back to his time at Prada as well as the Gucci years under American designer Tom Ford. While initial reviews were lukewarm, time will tell how Gucci fans respond.

Pharrell at Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton's former head of menswear Virgil Abloh, who died in November 2022, was always going to be a hard act to follow, so the French maison took its time to appoint the right name. In February, Louis Vuitton finally announced Pharrell Williams as the man to follow Abloh.

The decision took many by surprise as it was assumed a proven fashion designer would take over the men’s division. In the end, Vuitton stayed with the gut feeling that handed the role to Abloh in the first place, to trust in a street-savvy tastemaker and hope the gamble pays off.

In Abloh's case, LV reaped the rewards of his famous work ethic, and if Williams’s opening show is anything to go by – where he used a Parisian bridge as his runway and had J Zay perform live – LV's instincts are bang on the money once more.

Shake-up at Moschino

In March came the news that Jeremy Scott is stepping away from Moschino, a company he had collaborated creative forces with since 2013.

Bringing his own eccentricity to this most irreverent of brands, Scott dressed his runway models in rubber rings for spring/summer 2023, and gave us Katy Perry as a giant hamburger and a chandelier during the 2019 Met Gala.

In a cruel twist, the successor appointed a few months later, the Italian fashion designer Davide Renne, died suddenly after only nine days into his new tenure, aged 46.

No Tom at Tom Ford

In April, American designer Tom Ford stepped down from his own label, and bowed out of fashion, having sold his eponymous brand to Estee Lauder for a reported $2.8 billion. The move was so pivotal that Jay Z wrote a song about him.

Ford was the man who revived the ailing house of Gucci, turning it from a has-been into a brand worth a cool $10 billion. He had a stint at YSL, where he took his unique version of sensuality mainstream, before launching his eponymous label in 2005. Ford’s choice to step away draws to an end a formidable and sensational career.

His successor at Tom Ford is Peter Hawkings, who has worked alongside Ford for 25 years. Hawkings's debut collection was greeted with rapture in Paris this September and promises good things to come.

Phoebe Philo back in the fray

Philophiles let out a whoop of delight in July when it was announced that Phoebe Philo, one-time head of Chloe and Celine, was making her long-awaited comeback.

When at Celine, from 2007 to 2017, Philo single-handedly rewrote the codes of womenswear with her unfussy, practical and beautifully cut clothes. When she announced her departure from the French house, succeeded by Hedi Slimane, it sparked an “old Celine” fan base, in opposition to the “new Celine” direction Slimane took the house in.

In October, Philo’s first collection in six years went online and sold out almost immediately, with the second collection vanishing almost as fast as fans scrabbled to get hold of her masterpieces once again.

Ciao, Chloe

In September, after an all-too-brief tenure, Gabriela Hearst ended her partnership with Chloe.

Despite arriving to great fanfare as creative director in 2021, Hearst and her take on sustainability failed to connect with Chloe clients in a meaningful way. Since then, however, the designer has teamed up with actress Angelina Jolie for a capsule collection on new label Atelier Jolie.

End of an era at McQueen

Of course, one of the biggest upsets of the year has been the departure of Sarah Burton, creative director at Alexandra McQueen, who stepped down in September after 13 years at the helm.

Having already been founder Lee Alexander McQueen’s right hand when he died in February 2010, Burton was recognised as the logical successor by parent company Gucci Group (now called Kering) and she took over the reins just three months later.

Over the years, she made the brand her own as much as it was once McQueen’s, offering her unique take on elegant subversion. In 2011, Burton created Kate Middleton's wedding gown for her marriage to Prince William, making the designer a household name. Her final show for the house was greeted by applause and tearsin equal measure.

Just days later, her successor was named as Irish designer Sean McGirr, who has worked with Dries Van Noten and Burberry. No date has yet been given for McGirr's first collection for McQueen, with parent company Kering preferring to give the relative newcomer plenty of space to find his feet.

Mind the gap at Givenchy

Over at Givenchy, Matthew M Williamson announced in December that he was leaving the house after just three years. Founder of the label 1017 ALYX 9SM, Williams took over Givenchy in June 2020 from Clare Waight Keller but, after failing to ignite sales, he is to step down at the end of January.

A fabled, if notoriously challenging house, Givenchy has had a series of high-profile designers pass through its halls, including John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Ozwald Boateng and Julian Macdonald. Even Clare Waight Keller – the only Givenchy designer to have actually met founder Hubert de Givenchy, and who famously created Meghan Markle's wedding gown – lasted just three years.

Williams is expected to return to focusing on his own label, which is built around underground style and craftsmanship. Made in Italy, the brand is known for its quality infused with a street-savvy philosophy.

Updated: December 27, 2023, 10:00 AM