As Helms, Runways Move to Combine Menswear, Womenswear, LVMH Sticks to its Guns

It was revealed on Monday morning that Kris Van Assche will vacate his role as Dior’s menswear director. In his place: Louis Vuitton’s former menswear director, Kim Jones, who will join Maria Grazia Chiuri, who is currently Dior's womenswear equivalent. Van Assche had held the job at Dior Homme for 11 years and is “expected to take up a new assignment within the LVMH Group,” per WWD. It is currently unclear what that new role will be or who will fill Jones’ spot at the top of the Louis Vuitton menswear totem pole.

Many of the top spots at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton have been in flux in recent months both in terms of creatives but also on the executive side, as well. For instance, the Paris-based conglomerate – which owns Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Celine, Marc Jacobs, and Loewe, among other fashion and non-fashion brands – welcomed Hedi Slimane back into the fold (after his tenure at Dior Homme in the early 2000’s), naming him as successor to Phoebe Philo at Celine. Slimane will unveil menswear and couture, as well as a fragrance collection, for the Paris-based brand for the first time.

LVMH also recently oversaw the departure of Riccardo Tisci, Givenchy’s long-time creative director, who will join Burberry, with Claire Keller Waight, formerly of Chloe, taking his place.

The switch up of Van Assche and Jones is a particularly interesting one, though, as it highlights the fact that unlike rival conglomerate Kering, LVMH still, in at least a few key cases, separates its menswear and womenswear divisions. For instance, Dior is split, with Maria Grazia Chiuri serving as creative director of womenswear and as of April 1, Jones will oversee Dior’s menswear, or Homme, division.

At Louis Vuitton, the brand’s most profitable venture, the roles have been separated since Marc Jacobs first introduced womenswear at the traditional luggage brand in 1998, and 2011, when Kim Jones made his debut, alongside Louis Vuitton’s first-ever menswear collection. While Louis Vuitton has not yet named a successor for Jones, its womenswear division is in the hands of Nicolas Ghesquiere.

On the other hand, Kering’s big name labels, including Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, and Bottega Veneta, are unified in terms of menswear and womenswear. Alessandro Michele oversees both for Kering's top-earning label, Gucci, with Anthony Vaccarello doing the same at Saint Laurent, Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga, Sarah Burton at McQueen, and Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta.

The move towards combining the divisions makes sense particularly in recent years, as many brands (including Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, and Gucci, among others) have taken to combining their men’s and women’s offerings on the runway. Speaking of his decision to put both men and women on the same runway, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele said in April 2016, “It seems only natural to me to present my men’s and women’s collections together. It’s the way I see the world.”

For many brands, “There’s an obvious monetary benefit to combining your men’s wear and women’s wear runways — it doesn’t take a genius to figure one fashion show is cheaper than two,” Alexander Fury wrote for the New York Times’ T Magazine in January 2017. As for “how much that figures into the thinking of brands like Gucci and Bottega Veneta (whose combined 2015 revenues were in excess of $5.5 billion) is debatable.”

For the brands with fewer cost concerns, there is, as Fury notes, “a sizable creative payoff: The combined format places less time-pressure on designers to deliver.” The time constraints placed on designers, particularly those overseeing both menswear and womenswear divisions, have been a topic of recurring conversation in fashion over the past several years. Combining shows (and the creative direction of collections) could mean “more time to design the collections, sell to buyers, and meet production deadlines,” as the Demna and Guram Gvasalia, the brothers behind Vetements, stated in connection with their decision to combine runway shows.

Still yet, others, such as Burberry’s former creative director Christopher Bailey, point to a desire to “close the gap” and do “what feels right for the moment” in regards to the fluidity of gender and the evolution of gender norms, as a result for combining the collections.

Despite such benefits, LVMH has been slower to adopt this method. While J.W. Anderson – the eponymous label of Jonathan Anderson, in which LVMH has boasted a minority stake since 2013 – announced late last year that it would begin presenting its men’s and women’s collections together, and Givenchy and Kenzo do the same, none of the conglomerate’s other brands have opted to do so. (It is worth noting that Celine has, to date, been a womenswear-only label).

The menswear director vacancy at LVMH’s most revenue-driving house leaves open the question of whether LVMH will continue to keep these roles separate or if it might just follow the trend and combine them. There is, of course, also the chance that without monetary constraints and with a proven track record, LVMH – the world's most valuable luxury conglomerate – simply does not see the need to fix something that is not broken.