is gossip interfering with the fashion industry?

With rumors of Hedi Slimane’s next move getting prime page space in the fashion media, Anders Christian Madsen wonders if the influence of industry gossip is getting out of control.

by Anders Christian Madsen
09 May 2016, 12:32pm

Spotted: Hedi Slimane meeting with fashion investors in Doha. Or was he? The story came from Women's Wear Daily last week, and only days after lawyers for Slimane, who just left his creative director position at Saint Laurent, sent out a statement denying it. Good morning, Upper East Siders, and welcome to 21st century fashion where rumors aren't limited to Gossip Girl-like blogs, but dealt with by the high fortresses of industry journalism. "Could Hedi Slimane be looking for an investor to back his namesake fashion house," the WWD story opened, practically begging for Kristen Bell to narrate it. "The designer, who earlier this month parted ways with Saint Laurent after a four-year tenure, was recently spotted at the Mayhoola for Investments offices in Doha," it continued in gossip lingo you kind of had to love.

Of course he wasn't, and as his lawyers pointed out, "Slimane has never had in the past, let alone now, the intention or desire to launch a brand under his name, and therefore denies rumors (including in WWD) of alleged encounters with investors, in Paris or Doha, where Hedi Slimane has in fact never been." (If you ever want to try Paris though, Hedi, it's lovely in the fall.) If the story was ridiculous it was made hilarious by the fact that it obviously never happened. First of all, designers may be stars but they aren't exactly trailed by paparazzi. Secondly, it's hard to believe someone in Doha happened to be outside Mayhoola when Slimane walked in, and happened to be able to recognize him. With his new haircut people hardly recognized him at his own show!

One person who wouldn't find the daily gossip funny would be Slimane himself. Since the insane games of designer musical chairs went on loop at some point over the past ten years, the fashion industry rumor mill has grown into a beast that won't be tamed. Every week it seems a new rumor is making the rounds, usually involving a hugely talented designer and a massive fashion house. It's great for the brands — all hype is good hype —but you wonder how it affects designers such as Slimane when the mill starts spinning. Where does it come from, they must ask themselves, and will it affect their reputations, hireability, or any early-stage deals they've got in the cards? Great opportunities that could change their careers? As American teen television has taught us time and again, gossip is mean. And it could be dangerous.

Every week it seems a new rumor is making the rounds, usually involving a hugely talented designer and a massive fashion house. 

There was the story of a designer — who shall remain nameless so not to feed said gossip cycle — whose rumored hiring at a big fashion house set Instagram on fire. The person received flowers and well wishes from key members of the industry and congratulatory Instagram posts from friends, only there wasn't any truth to the rumors. They'd been started by some random blogger on the other side of the world. In this case it was taken in good spirits, but you never know what festers in the mind of the industry. Will some subconsciously feel like the designer in question lost out on that position, even if the person was never in the running? As a designer you inadvertently end up disappointing people — by sheer unwilling association. Of course there are designers who court that gossip, but that's a dangerous game to play with the fashion conglomerates, who now rely on hype and surprise designer announcements to keep their houses in the limelight.

Not that it always works. News of Hedi Slimane's departure from Saint Laurent this April — and Anthony Vaccarello's arrival — hit Paris way back at the men's shows in January. The hiring of Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga was a rumor about a month before the announcement was made last October. We all knew something was going on at Ermenegildo Zegna before Stefano Pilati announced he was leaving, at Brioni before they told us Justin O'Shea was arriving, and at Berluti before Alessandro Sartori left and went to Zegna. Last week gossip started circulating that a designer more illustrious than all of them together is leaving a very big house in October to be replaced by a younger one. And it's not the Chanel rumor, if that's what you're thinking.

That, of course, is a different one, as pointed out by Hypebeast in relation to the false Slimane spotting in Doha. "If Slimane signed a non-competitive agreement with the Kering Group and then signed with a competitor," they speculated, "he would require criminal defense. To add further fuel to the fire, current Chanel boss Karl Lagerfeld chose to wear a custom sequined Saint Laurent jacket for his victory lap at Chanel's resort show in Cuba. We know this because @choupettesdiary — aka the official Instagram of Lagerfeld's cat, Choupette — mentioned it in a caption." Said cat caption read: "There might be more to Daddy @KarlLagerfeld's Hedi Slimane for @YSL jacket than meets the eye. #HediSlimane to design menswear at @ChanelOfficial?"

It seems that when someone whispers something in our ear months in advance, it usually only concerns the good news—or at least the neutral stuff.

Industry rumor always had it Lagerfeld's team ran the Choupette Instagram account, but they would hardly go that far. Would they? With the power level of rumors going around in fashion, however, you wonder how often they're put out by the powers-that-be themselves, securing their houses vital tension-building and letting the hungry fashion hordes simmer in anticipation. Because it seems that when someone whispers something in our ear months in advance, it usually only concerns the good news — or at least the neutral stuff. We didn't know Alber Elbaz was leaving Lanvin or that Raf Simons was parting ways with Dior before those announcements hit us out of nowhere. And come to think of it, neither of those rumors would have benefitted the houses, who would have had to deal with public opinion before the deeds were done. Public opinion would likely have called for both designers to stay, even if Simons left of his own accord.

What's scary about the rumor's increasing power in fashion is that it's too damned easy to affect the game. Last year, yours truly ran out of questions to ask a designer in a brief interview at an event and said, "I've got to ask you about the rumors."—"Oh, I don't know," the designer smiled secretively. "Let's see what happens. It's still early days." Only, there wasn't any rumor, not that I'd heard of anyway. I just tried my luck, and bang, there it was. Needless to say I could guess what the designer was referring to — associations etc. — and it's what you'd call good gossip. Honestly, I didn't spread it because that night I thought to myself, what if my rumor killed this person's chances? Of course I'm no 24/7 saint — I gossip as much as the rest of them — but as the rumors get bigger and the stakes forever higher, I wonder if the industry's collective Gossip Girl mentality is headed for a meltdown.

With every esteemed fashion journalist joining the Instagram game where words are easily more gossipy and less formal than in the media, the lines between informed journalism and cool, hard gossip begin to blur. Much like when a royal family member gets a new girlfriend or a presidential candidate picks a VP, we chase no stories more than those which involve the fate of another person's life or career. And in an industry that's basically structured like the world of Game of Thrones — fashion houses as kingdoms and designers as warlords — we are becoming desensitized to gossip involving designer departures and arrivals. After all, we mustn't forget we're actually talking about human beings here, whose lives are deeply affected by these musical chairs, and the rumors that keep the music playing.


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Jason Lloyd Evans

Hedi Slimane
Saint Laurent