Working as a creative director has traditionally been seen as a very prestigious and influential role, especially for those in the arts and entertainment industries. Creative directors, after all, are charged with making high-level decisions, ones that can elevate the ranks of their business or plunge their status should they fail to hit the mark. Take American designer and entrepreneur, Virgil Abloh, as an example. Abloh first entered the world of international fashion with an internship at Fendi in 2009 and now serves as the artistic director at French luxury fashion house, Louis Vuitton. Abloh is credited with driving overall sales for the company, including wholesale and licensing, by 50 percent from a year before.
Whether a person in the role is overseeing the creation of assets such as advertisements, products, events, or logos, they must constantly pursue ways to expand their knowledge, draw inspiration to inform their decision making and do so in a way that makes their brand relevant, meaningful and exciting.
It should perhaps come as no surprise that it typically takes quite a bit of experience to land such a title. In fact, a person interested in such a role must first sharpen their creative wits as a graphic designer, photographer, or artist and have anywhere between five to 10 years of experience. Furthermore, a creative director must build a portfolio that highlights their talents and documents their past work.
But as of recent, a new prerequisite is seemingly throwing all prior qualifications out the window. That prereq seems to be the ability to influence.
For example, fast-fashion retailer, Pretty Little Thing (PLT) recently appointed former Love Island contestant and social media influencer, Molly-Mae Hague, as the creative director for the U.K. and E.U., while luxury fashion platform, FWRD, appointed entrepreneur and supermodel, Kendall Jenner as its new creative director.
Neither have the accolades of those like Virgil Abloh.
While Jenner has previously worked with several high-profile creative professionals in the fashion industry, such as Anna Wintour and Edward Enninful and has graced the covers of prestigious fashion magazines such as Vogue and has strutted the runway for top designers such as Chanel, Christian Dior and Miu Miu, Jenner still does not have prior traditional experience in creative roles – let alone has she served in a leading creative position – up until now that is.
But while Jenner’s prior experience isn’t exactly the formula of a traditional creative director, her experience still has major notable infusions of fashion. The same, however, cannot be said for reality star Molly-Mae Hague, whose only claim to fashion is taking a creative lead in designing a one-off collection for PLT.
So, does having a social media influence take precedence over experience and the overall ability to create?
One can argue that brands are looking for new ways to reinvigorate their business. During the past 18-19 months, many have struggled to make sales, especially as COVID-19 has forced them to close their brick-and-mortar locations during lockdowns and provide seamless online buying experiences. That said, is the appointment of Jenner and Hague purely a revenue-driven decision? Moreover, will they actually be making any decisions throughout their appointment or are they simply a new face to the name?
“I grew up loving fashion and have been incredibly fortunate to work with some of the most brilliant people in this business. As FWRD’s Creative Director, I am excited to help curate the site’s offering with emerging designers and brands,” Jenner said in a company statement. The keyword here being “help.”
And while many publications covered the appointment, Retail Bum included, some are vocalizing their confusion. For example, TikTok creator @jasmineinnyc posted a video questioning what Jenner’s new day-to-day would look like under her new role and whether or not the appointment simply played off of Revolve’s (FWRD’s parent company) influencer-based business model.
“No chance she will actually do any work. She’ll meet with them once a month and they’ll show her everything they’ve already decided,” said one of the top commenters on the post.
So does having influencer status and creative affiliation trump overall creative ability? Should we avoid being hung up on a specific formula as indirect career paths can often make for diverse and valuable experiences? And what do current, previous and aspiring creative directors think about the industry’s recent creative appointments?