Ralph Lauren Steps Down as CEO: Is Kanye West the Future of American Sportswear?

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With the announcement this week of Ralph Lauren stepping down as chief executive officer of the fashion empire he created, could this signal the end of the golden era of American designers?

Lauren, 75, was one of the last remaining designers in New York that not only helped build – but also sell to the world – the notion of sportswear as American fashion and cemented New York’s position as a fashion capital to rival Paris and Milan.

He belonged to a cadre of fashion royalty, along with Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Oscar de la Renta that came to define American fashion in modern history.

But with the passing of Oscar de la Renta last year, Donna Karan stepping down from her namesake company recently and Calvin Klein retired years ago, Lauren was seen as the remaining vanguard of this very select group of designers who built successful empires, became household names and came to define what American fashion would look like.

Lauren, 75, will continue to oversee the design aspects of his company, staying on as executive chairman and chief creative officer at the company he built over the last five decades.

Stefan Larsson, a 41-year-old Swede, will replace him as CEO and comes with some impressive retailing experience. Larsson was responsible for helping expand H&M into the global success story it is today and, most recently, was at Old Navy, where he turned the fortunes around for the moribound retailer owned by Gap.

And while brands like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Oscar de la Renta are legendary and will continue on in business, we can’t help but wonder who will be the next generation of American designers who will replace these old guards.

With Michael Kors already a billion dollar business and Marc Jacobs, a global brand, about to launch an IPO, we look at the next tier of up-and-coming design talent in New York. Do they have what it takes to stay in business for five decades, become household brands and help to usher in a new era of American fashion?

We take a look at some contenders, with designs from their fall 2015 collections.

ALEXANDER WANG – The 31 year old is cool, influential, energetic and his shows are the most coveted invite amongst fashion folk and the cool kids. His appointment as designer at Balenciaga (which ends this season) and his recent collaboration with H&M helped catapult him into the international limelight and shows he has the chops to appeal to a global consumer.

PROENZA SCHOULER – The designers behind this label, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez are bright lights on the New York fashion scene, consistently churning out modern collections that reflect their love of the city, culture and art.

JASON WU – The 33 year old designer of Taiwanese and Canadian nationality gained global attention when Michelle Obama wore his gowns on both the first and second inauguration of President Obama. His designs are a modern and clean take on classic clothes aimed at the younger Park Ave doyennes.

ZAC POSEN – He’s an old soul despite his tender age of 34. He launched his label at age 21 and quickly gained fans among the young social set with his dresses, gowns and suitings that has a whiff of retro 40s glamour.

THAKOON – Thai-American designer, Thakoon Panichgul, can count fans like Sarah Jessica Parker, Demi Moore and Michelle Obama. In the seminal documentary, The September Issue, viewers also saw how Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour singled him out and recommended him to design a collection for a mass market retailer.

KANYE WEST – Yes, the motor mouth has always made his ambitions to be a fashion designer known. And has acknowledged he would like to be as big as Ralph Lauren. With only two seasons of his Adidas Originals x Kanye West YEEZY label behind him, his pairing up with the athletic wear giant Adidas might just be the first step in helping him get there.

ALTUZARRA – Joseph Altuzarra can count one of the fashion world’s major influencer, Carine Roitfeld (former editor-in-chief of Paris Vogue) as a fan. Which is saying something about his vision and track record of turning out clothes for a modern, sexy and in-control woman of the world. An injection of funding from luxury conglomerate, Kering – the company behind behemoth brands Gucci and Saint Laurent – also indicates that the industry believes in the talents of this young designer.

3.1 PHILLIP LIM – This designer is well on track to being a commercial success story. His clothes are modern, with a nod to street style savvy, and smartly priced at the contemporary level – meaning, you get a lot of design in your garment that’s priced way below designer level. In 2013, his collaboration collection with Target was sold out, proving that this designer has broad appeal.