Immediately after something bad happens, people love to tell us that everything happens for a reason, whether it’s regarding a big breakup or simply a mistake we've made. If you’ve been fired before, you’ve surely heard it too and probably responded with a scoff or, at least, doubted the prospect. The fact is it can be tough to see the so-called light when we’re really in the thick of a bad moment—especially if it’s something as life-altering as a forced career change.
But when we learned that even the great Anna Wintour had been fired before (see her story below) and still went on to rule the fashion world, it gave us a little faith in that oft-mentioned mantra. To give us even more confidence in our newfound belief, we dug around for stories of other major fashion players who were once fired (or, in one case, endured a significant failure) but ended up going on to bigger and better things.
So whether or not you’ve been fired or just made a mistake you fear you can’t bounce back from, let the below stories inspire you to keep fighting the good fight—something great could be right around the corner!
Scroll down to read about eight fashion firings that were blessings in disguise.
Anna Wintour: Anna Wintour’s most surprising career advice is her belief that “everyone should get sacked at least once in their career because perfection doesn’t exist.” Well, it turns out she was speaking from personal experience. The Vogue editor was booted from Harper’s Bazaar in 1975 after she opted to put models’ hair in dreadlocks for a couture shoot. Her editors claimed that she didn’t “understand the American market.” History would have to disagree, and her transition to Vogue resulted in her and the magazine becoming the number one arbiters of high fashion. So we doubt she’s losing any sleep over it.
Mickey Drexler: Mickey Drexler may be best known for breathing life back into J.Crew, but he was also responsible for perking up sales at Ann Taylor and Gap prior to his current role. Known for being obsessive about details and very passionate about the industry, Drexler made an especially big splash while operating as CEO of Gap, solidifying the simple American style that it’s known for and significantly increasing its sales. So it came as a big surprise when he was fired by Gap founder Donald Fisher in 2002, due to a sudden stock plunge. Lucky for Drexler, he was quickly picked up by J.Crew, where he went on to transform it from a flailing casualwear company to a more upscale, fashion-forward brand.
Diana Vreeland: Diana Vreeland, who worked as an acclaimed fashion editor for both Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue magazines over the period of 1936-1971, is less known for her role as special consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, she’s actually credited as the first person to really draw crowds and donation money to the wing that was initially only frequented by fashion designers and scholars. But it took getting fired from Vogue over a lack of financial discipline for her to even consider the Met’s offer. Her elaborate exhibits, including The World of Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent: 25 Years of Design, were the first of their kind and paved the way for the Met’s exhibits (and its galas) as we now know them.
Marc Jacobs: When designer Marc Jacobs showed his infamous grunge collection for Perry Ellis in 1992, critics destroyed him for the layered flannels, skullcaps, and Dr. Martens he sent down the runway. Interestingly, Anna Wintour was the only member of the press to back the collection, but that couldn’t save him from the men in charge at Perry Ellis, who were less than pleased. Jacobs was promptly fired alongside his business partner Robert Duffy, but LVMH came calling soon after to set up a meeting about working together. Although negotiations lasted 18 months, the luxury juggernaut ended up funding Jacobs’s first store and going on to support the growth of his überpopular namesake brand.
John Galliano: Long considered the “bad boy” of the fashion world for his provocative collections, John Galliano successfully reenergized the house of Dior when he was hired in 1996. But after a video surfaced of the designer's anti-Semitic outburst at a Paris cafe, his provocations went way too far for the comfort of his superiors and fans of Dior. He was rightly fired and went on to take a break from the fashion world, including a stint in rehab for alcohol and drug problems. One result of this firing was Raf Simons’s placement at Dior, which has been one of the most celebrated designer transitions ever. And Galliano himself was forced on a crucial introspective journey that resulted in keeping his addictions at bay and a public apology for what he himself called “the worst thing I have said in my life.” He is now working as the creative director of Margiela, so it appears that this ugly moment provided positive results for all parties in the end.
Olivier Theyskens: After months of rumours about design differences between designer Olivier Theyskens and Puig, the parent company of Nina Ricci, Theyskens was let go in January of 2009. Although the collections hadn’t been selling, the fashion community endorsed his work with the brand, with Anna Wintour even lamenting his firing in one of her editor’s letters. “There’s a reason we continue to see Theyskens’s influence everywhere, from catwalks to the mall. He’ll be back, but fashion must hold its nerve,” she wrote. And back he was! After a stint at Rochas, he went on to work as artistic director of Theory, where he transformed the staid basics brand into a luxurious mix of separates that women of all ages suddenly coveted. Though he left the brand last year, his legacy remains and ensures that his next move will be made confidently.
Vera Wang: Growing up, Vera Wang dreamed of being a professional figure skater, and by the time she was in high school, she was good enough to compete in the 1968 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. She placed fifth with her partner but failed to make the U.S. Olympic team, which would have presumably set her life on a very different path. It may not be a “firing,” but without that rejection, Wang may never have considered a career in fashion, which she says only came to her after the fact. She went on to work at Vogue and, after a few years as the fashion director, was turned down for the editor in chief position given to Anna Wintour. It was only then that she decided to pursue design, first at Ralph Lauren and then on her own for a namesake bridal line that, as we now know, would go on to flourish and expand.
Yves Saint Laurent: Designer Yves Saint Laurent had his first big gig in 1957, at just 21, as the couture designer of Dior. His initial collection was attributed with saving the house from financial ruin. Around the same time, Laurent was drafted to fight in the Algerian War, but the owner of Dior, Marcel Boussac, managed to persuade the government not to follow through with it. However, rumour has it that after a weak season in 1960, Boussac freed up Laurent to be drafted as a means of getting rid of him. After only a few weeks in the military, while recovering in a military hospital from a minor injury, Laurent found out he was fired. He would go on to sue the house of Dior for breach of contract and form his own fashion house that effectively transformed the way women dressed, with collections like Le Smoking and the Mondrian. His name is now just as renowned as Dior’s.
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Have you ever been fired but bounced back? Share your story with us in the comments!
Alexander Vreeland Diana Vreeland Memos: The Vogue Years ($40)