Fashion's Almighty Tribes

Although it’s easy to associate one person (be it designer, stylist or editor) with a given brand, it’s the collective tribe behind these figureheads that sustains their power-broker hold. Anna Wintour and her entourage, for instance, have had a lockdown on NYC—and with it, a monopolistic say over the winners and losers of American design—since her start at Vogue in 1988, establishing the prototype for an era of similar city to city power cliques. This type of regional tribalism is nothing new, of course, but it’s the make-or-break insularity of each group that shapes a city’s stylistic environment.

London’s many tribes, by comparison, pale besides stylist Katie Grand’s posse. A former classmate of Stella McCartney at Central Saint Martins and one-time girlfriend of both Rankin and Giles Deacon, Grand has enlisted the help of Luella Bartley and her former right hand Katie Hillier to cultivate her sought-after aesthetic eye. Her magic touch has rippled from Bottega Veneta to Louis Vuitton to Mulberry to Marc Jacobs, while models like Liberty Ross might have otherwise been ignored were it not for Grand. As they disperse between brands and titles, however, the members of this British design mafia continue to assist one other, helping to keep things decidedly “English”—and quite homogeneous in the race department.

Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of Vogue Italy since 1988, has a similarly powerful posse under her command. Her son Francesco Carrozzini is a photographer and one of the primary contributors to L’Uomo Vogue, while her niece Sara Maino also works in-house at Vogue Italia and her sister Carla Sozzani operates 10 Corso Como Milanos premier boutique, gallery and hotel. Italian brands know the strength of this family connectivity, relying heavily on these intimate opinions to keep their companies in the loop—many companies are advised by Sozzani as she handpicks the stylists, designers, photographers, art directors and even hair and makeup artists,most of whom fall under her editorial umbrella.

One of the most infamous power teams was made up of Tom Ford, photographer Mario Testino and then-stylist Carine Roitfeld, who collectively propelled Gucci from silk printed scarves and loafers to bias evening gowns with gold hardware and hot-to-have It bags. This eventually led to Roitfeld’s induction to her present post as editor-in-chief at French Vogue, where she controls a notorious team of stylists such as Emmanuelle Alt, Marie Amélie Sauvé and Anastasia Barbieri. Together they have the run of most French houses and also have their hands in most other fashion cities (notably Italy). This intimate involvement is not without its ups and downs, however: a recent scandal broke out when a Balenciaga sample was apparently copied in the house of Max Mara via Roitfeld, while Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci‘s ubiquitous presence on the pages of French Vogue hints at a mutual trade-off.

The power plays between these tribes and the sidelined outsiders is a constant. One cannot survive in our current climate without the other. It remains to be seen if these tribes are a collective combination of the most talented visionaries, or if they are merely based on high ambition and connections—in which case, how long will they survive? Whatever the case, there is always someone waiting in the wings with a crew of admirers ready for a takeover.

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