Is Designer Burnout Real? Alexander Wang Seems to Think So


Alexander Wang talks with Alina Cho at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 9, 2016, in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images)

Alexander Wang leaving Balenciaga was just the beginning of the great migration: Shortly after, Raf Simons announced he would be leaving Dior, and Hedi Slimane followed with his Saint Laurent departure. In just a span of a few months, three top designers departed creative director roles at major European luxury labels after just three-year tenures.

“Trendsetter!” Wang said of the coincidental occurrence, on Thursday night during The Atelier With Alina Cho’s second season at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Indeed, he was. Simons and Slimane weren’t the only ones to follow suit. Most recently, Danielle Sherman announced her resignation as the creative director of the Paris-based brand Edun. This capped her three-year stay there. Stefano Pilati at Zegna, Alessandra Facchinetti at Tod’s, Brendan Mullane at Brioni, Arnaud Maillard and Alvaro Castejon at Azzaro all served brands for three years before heading out the door.

So why is three the magic number? Well, if Wang’s experience is any indication, there’s a pattern in the progression — and subsequent decline — of the role. “Year one was great; it was a complete change of lifestyle and pace than what I was used to dealing with in New York.” he said. “I had a lot of quiet time to reflect, and year two was crazy because I was doing that and H&M and my own line. By year three, I was like ‘What am I doing? Where is my focus?’”

In order to readjust, Wang recognized that he had to prioritize. “At the end of the day I said, ‘My brand is who I am. I own it with my family. I’m not going to put in all this love and effort into something that’s not my baby.’” After just over a decade of building, Wang’s company is still 100 percent privately owned, and the 32-year-old counts his sister-in-law as his CEO and his brother as his chief principal officer. “So I said it was time to go home and take Alexander Wang to the next chapter.”

Yet it seems that he spent just enough time at Balenciaga to make a real impact on not just the Kering-owned brand but his own label as well. Having the opportunity to work with a fashion atelier taught him methods that probably raised his profile in the industry (and provided a healthy paycheck to fund this own projects).

But parallels can also be drawn with other designers, and there’s no doubt that burnout is real. Simons was admittedly overwhelmed by the demand to produce so much (haute couture, ready-to-wear, pre-collections, as well as various international appearances for Dior and his own menswear line). He didn’t renew his contract with LVMH “for personal reasons,” citing a need for work-life balance. Simons, like Wang, has since recommitted himself to his namesake label — though, it should be noted, the industry speculates he could be hired to head up Calvin Klein as early as August.

Maybe all it takes is a few months of rest and recuperation to bounce back to creating at a breakneck pace.

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