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Place Vendôme │ © Giorgio Galeotti
Place Vendôme │ © Giorgio Galeotti
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The Leading Creatives Behind Paris' Most Famous Fashion Houses

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 29 August 2016
Paris has long been considered the fashion capital of the world, attracting the biggest names in the business to head its legendary houses. Here we take a look at the insanely talented people behind the brands, how they got started, their rise to the top, and what aspects of their creative genius they are best known for.

Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel

Of all the designers on this list, none are truly as iconic as Karl Lagerfeld. Despite his status at the top of the industry, the man with the whiter than white hair and blacker than black sunglasses retains a degree of mystery. No one knows, for example, his exact date of birth. We do know that he grew up in Hamburg, Germany, as the son of a wealthy businessman and got his first job in Paris with Balmain in 1955. He has been the co-creative director at Fendi since the 1970s and at the helm of Chanel since 1982, a brand which he thoroughly revived. He founded his own eponymous line in 1984 and sold it to the Tommy Hilfiger group in 2005, though he remains its artistic director too.

Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior

Maria Grazia Chiuri this summer was the most talked about woman in fashion (except for maybe Kendall Jenner). In June, she stepped aside to allow Pierpaolo Piccioli, her design partner of more than twenty years, to become the sole creative director at Valentino. Together, they had reinvigorated the company after the departure of its founder, Valentino Garavani, in 2007, raising its estimation in the eyes of the fashion press and its revenues in 2015 to $1 billion. A month after her resignation, and following mass speculation, Chiuri was confirmed as the new head designer at Christian Dior, taking over from a caretaker team who had been in place since Raf Simons left the role in 2015.

Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy

Riccardo Tisci has made Givenchy his own since he took over as creative director from Julien Macdonald in 2005, incorporating his dark, somewhat twisted aesthetic into this classic French brand. Tisci grew up in Taranto, Southern Italy, in a house with eight sisters and left (understandably, you’d imagine) to study design at Central Saint Martins in 1991 at the age of 17. After graduating, he worked for a number of Italian houses before establishing his own in Milan in September 2004. Months later, he was recruited by Givenchy. Tisci can be credited with introducing transgender models to the catwalk, employing his long-time assistant Lea T to walk in his spring 2010 show.

Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent

Not that the fashion crowd is necessarily one to gossip but when Hedi Slimane stepped down as head designer at Yves Saint Laurent earlier this year the name on everyone’s lips as the most likely to fill his shoes was Anthony Vaccarello. The 33-year-old from Belgium had previously been creative director at Versus Versace and of his own line, roles in which he made a name for himself as a designer with a highly sexualized look. It is hoped that this edginess helps him to maintain the 20% annual growth rate and $1 billion business that Slimane built for Saint Laurent. His are some extremely big boots to fill indeed!

John Galliano at Maison Margiela

John Galliano may always be known as much for his creative talent as he is for the controversy he has caused. His first collection in 1984, which he created for his Central Saint Martins’ graduation project, was, remarkably, bought in its entirety. However, a decade of financial instability followed before his appointment as the head designer of Givenchy in 1995, making him the first Brit to head a French haute couture house. Two years later, he was moved to Dior. Galliano’s spectacular fall from favor was precipitated by the undercover recording of him making anti-semetic statements whilst inebriated in June and December 2010. After a number of years away from the spotlight, during which he received treatment for addiction, Galliano made his return to high fashion as the creative director of Maison Martin Margiela in 2014.

Olivier Rousteing at Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is very much the designer for the social media generation. He, more than anyone else in the game, is able to turn selfies into sales. Born in 1986, he grew up in Bordeaux before moving to study at the Ecole Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode in Paris. Rousteing’s first job out of university was at Roberto Cavalli. After only a year, he was promoted to the head designer of the women’s ready-to-wear collection. He moved to the same job at Balmain in 2009, where he perfected his signature feminine rock-and-roll style. In April 2011, at just 25 years old, he became the brand’s creative director. Since then, he has opened boutiques in New York and London and boosted revenues by somewhere in the region of 15-20%, of which menswear now accounts for 40%.

Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton

Nicolas Ghesquière was the creative director at Balenciaga for 15 years between 1997 and 2012. In his time in charge of the Spanish house, he transformed it into a company that enjoyed as much critical as commercial success. So much so that it wasn’t uncommon for the staff at the Paris flagship store to turn away crowds from the doors, unable as they were to meet the demand for his uniquely contrasting creations. Notoriously self-critical and private, Ghesquière took a year out from the business – presumably to recharge and focus on his other passions for art and music – before it was announced in November 2013 that he would be taking over as the artistic director for Louis Vuitton.

Clare Waight Keller at Chloé

Clare Waight Keller established herself as a renowned designer through her stewardship of Pringle of Scotland from a dated and disparaged house to a well-respected contemporary brand. She began knitting at the age of five and went on to study fashion first at Ravensbourne College of Art and then The Royal College of Art. She began her career in New York with posts at Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Gucci before returning to the U.K. to take the reins at Pringle in 2005. Six years later, she resigned from the company in order accept the top job at Chloé in Paris, where she has continued to produce work that reflects the brand’s mix of ease and sophistication.

Jean Paul Gaultier at Jean Paul Gaultier

Once known as l’enfant terrible of fashion due to his penchant for testing fashion rules and rewriting them along his own lines, Jean Paul Gaultier has been at the head of his own fashion house since 1982. Never formally trained in design, Gaultier went straight to work for Pierre Cardin. He got the world’s attention in 1990 when he designed the outfits for Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour, the conical bras which made a significant impression on the fashion history, and the public at large. Since then, he has retained it by frequently reversing gender norms on the runway, preferring women in trousers and men in skirts, for example. Gaultier started producing couture in 1997 and he also served as the head designer at Hermès between 2003 and 2011.