LONDON — In what is the latest example of a trend that has been sweeping the fashion industry, Jonathan Saunders, the Scottish designer tasked with reimagining the Diane von Furstenberg label for a new generation, has abruptly left his role as chief creative officer after 18 months.
Hirings and firings at major brands reached new heights in 2017, with at least one change per month in the creative or commercial leadership of a major house.
Mr. Saunders, who moved to New York and joined DVF in May 2016 after closing his London-based brand in December 2015, had won both commercial ground and critical acclaim for his hand in the reinvention of the New York fashion house, known for its original wrap dress, message of female empowerment, and bold use of color and print. His resignation, announced Friday, is effective immediately, a statement said. Mr. Saunders’s pre-fall 2018 collection, presented this month, will be his last collection for the brand.
“I am grateful for Diane’s support and for the opportunity of guiding this iconic brand. I am so proud of everything we have accomplished in the past 18 months,” Mr. Saunders said in the statement. “I thank the incredible team for their dedication and support, and will continue to be a friend and admirer of the brand.”
Ms. von Furstenberg added that she was “thankful” to Mr. Saunders for the “beautiful work and the effort and dedication he has put into DVF.”
Mr. Saunders’s sudden exit after just three ready-to-wear seasons is the latest executive shake-up at DVF, exemplifying the difficulty many of fashion’s founding fathers and mothers have had in orchestrating a transition of power while trying to build relevance with a younger audience.
Paolo Riva, the first titled chief executive of the brand, left in November 2016, also after 18 months at the helm. He has yet to be replaced.
Mr. Saunders was preceded by two other designers, Michael Herz and Yvan Mispelaere; each was introduced by Ms. Von Furstenberg with great fanfare and enthusiasm, and each lasted roughly two years in the job. Mr. Saunders, however, was the first to be given the title of chief creative officer, with formal responsibility for all aspects of design at the company — including fashion, art direction and advertising — an indication that Ms. von Furstenberg had been serious this time about handing over power.
When Mr. Saunders’s appointment was announced in May 2016, Ms. von Furstenberg told The New York Times, “I have been looking for someone to be my heir for years, and now I have found him.” She said she planned to to concentrate her energies on philanthropy and on her position as chairwoman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
She appeared to take a hands-off approach as the brand started to take a new direction under Mr. Riva and Mr. Saunders. But their brief stints at the house (which is privately owned, largely by Ms. von Furstenberg’s family) would suggest that the separation of the brand from its creator had proven more challenging for both sides than originally anticipated. And not simply because of outside pressures due to a rocky global trading environment, an increased pace of production to keep up with consumer and digital demands, and more competition than ever.
Mr. Saunders’s departure also comes less than a week after Ms. von Furstenberg announced that she was seeking a new investor in order to fund the company’s expansion efforts.
“I’m not selling the business, but the time has come for me to bring in management that the company deserves. I have decided that we probably will sell an equity stake,” Ms. von Furstenberg told WWD, stressing that the company should no longer be a family business — a proposition that may now be viewed as more complicated than it sounds.
DVF did not immediately announce a successor for Mr. Saunders. His next move is also unknown.