Learning from other creative industries (IV): the creative director

This is the fourth of a mini-series about the business of interdisciplinary learning amongst creative industries.

The job title I use most often to capture my work for our business, The Professional and Higher Partnership, is Creative Director. This term, which is well established in the media and advertising industries, is unusual in book publishing. Indeed, I have yet to meet anyone in the book industry who uses that title.

My use of the term signals, amongst other things, a kinship with other creative industries and a willingness to learn from them. No surprise, then, that my attention was drawn to an article by Nicholas Foulkes in the FT about the role of creative directors (FT ‘Watches & Jewellery’ supplement, 8 Sept 2012).

I

The article begins by focusing on the work of Victoire de Castellane at Dior as an example of ‘how the concept of creative director has been imported from fashion to jewellery’. The article compares her to a rock star, both because of her status and because she spends time touring (meeting Dior’s clients).

Evidently de Castellane’s personality is important (she’s ‘an affectionate person’ with ‘a playful intelligence’), as is the synergy with the ‘personality’ of the house of Dior itself. According to Foulkes, ‘to describe her relationship with Dior as a business model is to cheapen it’.

Foulkes explores the way that differences between industries affect the role of the creative director. Fashion and jewellery differ markedly: ‘fashion is defined by its obsolescence whereas…jewellery is seen as a lasting store of value.’ In a jewellery house, according to one of Foulkes’ interviewees, creativity is more distributed – between, for example,  ‘designer, the maker, or stone setter’.

Throughout the article the theme of the relationship between the creative individual and the company is explored. In the early history of a fashion house, according to Foulkes, a creative director is not needed — simply because, in a family-owned business, the founder’s own personality may permeate the style of the house. The need for a creative director becomes evident, however, once the house becomes part of a large group.

Creative director and house need to be in alignment. Foulkes quotes Hamdi Chatti from Louis Vuitton as saying, ‘I tell my creative director…”We need things that express our spirit, not just beautiful things”‘.

II

I know nothing of the world of Dior and Vuitton. I don’t believe I’ve ever read even a single article on these industries before. Yet I read this one with fascination. Throughout the article I found myself wanting to explore analogies with publishing, wondering how these themes played out in my own industry.

If publishers don’t have creative directors, how is their function distributed amongst other individuals? How does the difference between  publishing and other creative industries change the need for the function? How much of a publishing business can be explained in terms of business model and how much is irreducibly a matter of individual personality? To what extent, in an industry where brands are more B2B than B2C,  do  companies have, or need, ‘personalities’ themselves?

The potential parallels between publishing and these other creative industries seemed to me clearest in that quotation from Chatti: ‘We need things that express our spirit, not just beautiful things’. That seems to me to express an essential point about the nature of an editorial programme. Indeed, learning that point seems to me the single biggest lesson is publisher education.

III

Strangely, a week or two before I came across this article I changed the description of our company on our website pandhp.com. I decided to describe ourselves as ’boutique publishers’.

My hunch is that if independent publishing saw itself more in the light of other creative industries – as distinctive yet comparable, rather than sui generis – that would be to its advantage.

Atlantic, Profile, even Bloomsbury: will such companies need in due course to appoint creative directors to sustain their legacies?

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About Anthony Haynes

Director, Frontinus Ltd Communications Associate, FJWilson Talent Services

3 comments

  1. Brilliant, Anthony, an example of micro-publishers creatively in advance of the independents ahead of the corporates. Toby Mundy, Andrew Franklin and Alexandra Pringle read it here first.

  2. Pingback: Publishing fashion and fashioning publishing « Monographer

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