The Emperor’s New Clothes

The Emperor’s New Clothes

The scandal involving John Galliano’s unfortunate remarks, dismissal from the House of Dior, and his recent attempt at redemption through a stint at Oscar De La Renta, set me thinking about the differences, and parallels, between the fashion and interior design industries, and particularly how the cult of personality affects the two industries.

John Galliano after one of his final collections at Dior

John Galliano after one of his final collections at Dior

In the fashion world, there are clear routes to market: Fashion Week in major world cities, catwalk shows and semi-annual collections, couture and celebrity labels. The actual clothes that wind up in our stores and closets are usually quite different from what we see at these events, but each feeds on the other in a well-established way.

A Sumptuous Dior Couture Creation by John Galliano

A Sumptuous Dior Couture Creation by John Galliano

The interior design industry, for the most part, comes at things from a different perspective. Certainly, there are celebrity designers, and if one of them were recorded making the kinds of statements Galliano did, there would be an outcry. But other than perhaps furniture or accessory lines, there’s no machine on the order of the fashion industry, whereby a designer’s vision is modified to accommodate real-world consumers. And that has led to a strange anomaly in interior design.

A Kelly Wearstler Designed Living Room

A Kelly Wearstler Designed Living Room

Some designers, like some architects, have become arbiters of taste and celebrities in their own right, using the media, high-profile clients and self-promotion to become stars. In commercial work, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if the designer’s individual vision predominates. But when it comes to residential work, the advantages are less clear.

Clients who hire a Kelly Wearstler or John Saladino may be choosing them because they love that particular look, but I suspect some are buying a label, just as they wear Galliano couture or Manolos, whether they suit them or not. Can the label phenomenon really translate to interior design?

Nate Berkus, an endorsement from Oprah always helps.

Nate Berkus, an endorsement from Oprah always helps.

The heart of a successful interior begins and ends with the individual client. It should be less about the designer’s vision or style and more about you. Just as designer clothes can sometimes “wear” you rather than the other way around, some of these celebrity homes scream about the designer and say nothing about the owner. The work may look wonderful splashed across the pages of Architectural Digest, but does anyone really live there? Could you?

The process of designing your home should be about informed consumption. A truly talented designer, whether he or she is a big name or a hardworking local designer whose portfolio speaks to you, should always start with extensive consultation with you, helping you to clarify your own vision.
Without that, it’s really just window dressing.

A Michael S. Smith Interior: one of the hottest celebrity designers around.

A Michael S. Smith Interior: one of the hottest celebrity designers around.