Promotion trumps recruitment as the route to the top right now

The speculation over who will get the royal wedding-dress commission sheds light on the teamwork behind the scenes at fashion houses.

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Wow! How clever is Michelle Obama? It would seem her decision to wear that Alexander McQueen dress could turn out to be the best she ever made - in fashion terms.

Sarah Burton in fact designed the dress, the designer who grasped the reins of the man she had worked alongside for 14 years, when he died.

Burton is now number one in the stakes when it comes to runners and riders tipped to get the gig for Kate Middleton's wedding dress. If she gets it, further light will be shone on what goes on behind the scenes at big fashion houses.

I can tell you now, it's teamwork. One man or woman could not possibly produce the 10 or so collections required each year on their own, and that's not counting diffusion lines, ranges for the southern hemisphere, as well as accessories, sportswear, kidswear, perfumes and advertising.

For years, certain highly profitable fashion giants such as MaxMara, have not even felt the need to crown just one person the creative director, preferring instead to rely on a trusted design team consisting of young graduates alongside the sort of atelier staff with 30 years' experience whom we saw take their bow at the Dior show in Paris last week.

A team is employed to create the Vivienne Westwood Red Label, which re-creates her "best of" styles and put a "Westwood spin" on whatever trends are around.

There's a vast design team behind Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs. A designer is only ever as good as his team. In a show of loyalty, according to WWD, the American fashion magazine, Galliano's own "inner" team was not among the men and women in white coats who appeared on the catwalk at Dior. Which only made me think, how many more are there?

Most designers I know have at some point worked for MaxMara, which often recruits directly from college. Young designers are sent to far-flung regions of Italy, most famously the textile village of Reggio Emilia, to learn the ropes. Sharing the hour-long bus ride to work with sheep (it's true, I tell you) is considered a rite of passage in the high-fashion industry.

For every designer who makes it to the throne of Dior, there are hundreds who end up being part of a design team, most lucratively in New York, where they pay big bucks.

Insiders have long obsessed over the ever-changing who's who of creative directors behind Yves Saint Laurent (Stefano Pilati) or Balmain (Christophe Decarnin). In light of the Dior scandal, we could now see this trend come to an end. Ultimately, the brand itself should, and must be, bigger than the designer at the helm.

It's not even designers themselves who are in control. It's the men-in-suits behind luxury conglomerates such as PPR, LVMH, Gucci Group and Richemont who play fashion like horse racing, plucking designers from obscurity, hoping they will put the brand on the radar.

Selling clothes isn't even the main objective. Flogging perfume and make-up is. And sometimes even star designers fail to strike the balance.

Lanvin's Alber Elbaz lasted three seasons at Yves Saint Laurent before he was allegedly sacked for not reviving its flagging fortunes.

In contrast, I have never forgotten the way Sarah Burton was eased into her role as the creative director at Gucci-owned Alexander McQueen. Silently and swiftly, she was soft-launched into position from which to make her move. Which she did. Spectacularly.

If you believe the rumours, she had overseen the collection for many years prior to McQueen's health decline and undertook the fittings for many McQueen clients. One I know of is Sara Buys, a society fashion journalist whose wedding dress was designed by Burton when she married the son of the Duchess of Cornwall, Tom Parker Bowles, in 2005.

Perhaps hers is one of those "overnight success stories", which, in fact, took a couple of decades.

When Gucci Group announced in May last year "we are ready to enter a new phase in the brand's history", it underlined what could be the next fashion phenomenon.

Raf Simons (who designs for Jil Sander) and Riccardo Tisci (Givenchy) are just two names put forward as potentials for the Dior job. I suspect Dior will look for a low-profile designer bristling with experience who will be only too happy to add a couple of noughts to his or her salary. I predict in-house promotion will be the new black.

After all, if it's good enough for a designer who dresses a first lady - perhaps even a future queen - it's good enough for Dior.

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