The Impression End of Year Review 2023 Debut Collections Insight article image

A Year in Review: 2023’s Breakthrough Designer Debuts

Spotlight on Innovation: Unveiling the Future of Fashion

By The Impression Team

A new creative director appointment at a historic house presents an exciting inflection point at the crossroads of fashion past and fashion future. One the one hand, each heritage brand has an iconic and beloved archival legacy that new designers must uphold; on the other, an integral part of fashion is the concept of newness, and we expect a progressive vision. To step into this role thus presents a unique challenge, and it was one that the debut designers of 2023 each met with a distinct perspective.

From Sabato De Sarno’s pared-back refresh of Gucci to Helmut Lang’s poetic new direction under Peter Do, 2023 was jam-packed with highly anticipated runway debuts. After plenty of news of departures and reshuffling at the end of last year and early this year, these shows felt like a long time coming – but the wait was worth it as we got exciting insight into the continuing trajectory of these historic houses.

The Impression’s editorial team takes a look back at our favorite debut collections of the year and how they set the course for the future of the fashion industry.

Daniel Lee at Burberry

The debut of Daniel Lee at Burberry was more than just a fashion event; it was a historical moment. His collection marked the first time a British designer (Daniel Lee) teamed up with a British CEO (Jonathan Akeroyd) to steer the iconic British house. This synergy was palpable in the collection, which celebrated Burberry’s rich heritage while charting an ambitious new course. Lee’s reinterpretation of classic Burberry checks and the strategic use of vibrant color palettes signified a fresh direction. His revival of Burberry Prorsum, complete with shield, was a masterstroke, connecting the brand’s past and future.

Lee’s designs were not just a nod to Burberry’s history; they were a bold statement about its future. He has shown a unique ability to reinterpret the past, making the brand more accessible to younger audiences while maintaining its luxurious ethos. This debut was a clear indication that Lee is building a new vocabulary for Burberry, one that I expected to resonate strongly with the next generation of fashion enthusiasts. The anticipation for what he brings next is palpable, marking an upswing for a brand that is ready to embrace a new era.

–Kenneth Richard, Chief Impressionist

Maximilan Davis at Ferragamo

In the dynamic and ever-changing world of fashion, the appointment of Maximilian Davis as Ferragamo’s creative director in March 2022 marked a significant moment. Bringing a breath of fresh air to this esteemed fashion house, Davis introduces an invigorating and novel perspective. His arrival comes at a time when the industry is marked by rapid changes in creative leadership– making it it all the more important to pause and appreciate the unique flair and visionary approach Davis has brought to Ferragamo in his still early collections.

Davis’ work at Ferragamo is a vibrant testament to his innovative spirit, beautifully harmonizing the brand’s celebrated elegance with a bold, contemporary outlook. Drawing deeply from his rich Caribbean roots and the pulsating avant-garde energy of London’s club scene, Davis weaves a dynamic and refreshing narrative into the tapestry of high fashion. His approach revitalizes Ferragamo, infusing the legendary brand with a vibrant energy that resonates profoundly with today’s audience, while respectfully nodding to its illustrious heritage.

This significant chapter in Ferragamo’s storied history, marked by Davis’s tenure, ushers in an era brimming with creativity and style. It’s a transformative period that promises to make an enduring impact on the fashion world’s landscape, blending tradition with a forward-thinking vision in a way that only Davis can.

–Mackenzie Richard, Head of Editorial

Peter Do at Helmut Lang

Fashion’s now infamous game of musical chairs saw Peter Do ascend to the top job at Helmut Lang. A once-influential and often referenced American brand which drove the adoption of the minimalist look in the 1990s. Do’s appointment was applauded in fashion’s inner circles for its synergy with the Helmut Lang brand, and while his highly anticipated debut collection during New York fashion week met with relatively positive reviews, there were some who questioned if the young designer had pushed the envelope enough. In response to the archival raiding that was on full display and could be considered low hanging fruit. But it was the acknowledgement of his personal journey of riding around in cars (as a child upon migrating to the USA from Vietnam) and how they also provided a safe space for those from queer communities (with the help of Vietnamese-American writer Ocean Vuong) via graphic text emblazoned on the runway and across crisp-white shirts that spoke to a designer attuned with the way in which fashion can be harnessed as a powerful communication tool.

Peter Do also debuted his namesake label during Paris fashion week for spring summer 2024. A wise, as well as strategic, move by the designer considering the current uncertainty around the tenures of creative directors at the helm of luxury brands in today’s climate. He riffed on his particular take of deconstructed tailoring and included crowd-pleasers which blurred the gender-lines. There was even the seamless addition of his Banana Republic collaboration, demonstrating that the designer is unwilling to take his eye-off-the-ball and will continue providing what his loyal fan-base wants.

–Angela Baidoo, Fashion Features Editor

 Stefano Gallici at Ann Demeulemeester

After years of internal shakeups, reacquisitions, and creative changes, the house of Ann Demeulemeester may finally be back on track thanks to new creative director Stefano Gallici. Taking over after Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s one-season run, the new leader – who has been with the brand since 2020, working in menswear – was tasked with the difficult challenge of filling the eponymous founder’s elusive yet amazing shoes while carrying the brand forward.

 Gallici rose to the challenge, delivering a collection that captured Demeulemeester’s difficult balance of precision and fluidity, moroseness and romance. Though it wasn’t the primary feature of the collection as it was in de Saint Sernin’s, there was still lots of skin, but its presence was mediated through sheer layering and a sense of flow that transcended the body. In a moment when fashion seems to have been made synonymous with archival luxury and the bigger debuts feel like corporate expansions, it’s a welcome change to see a heritage house take a poetic turn inward, recognizing the darkness of our world while still finding beauty in it.

–Mark Wittmer, Senior Fashion Writer

Sabato de Sarno at Gucci

Of the many debut collections of 2023, Sabato De Sarno’s for Gucci deserves a special
mention. Following in the footsteps of Alessandro Michele, who, with his eclectic,
maximalist designs, rejuvenated Gucci and re-established it as a leading fashion
powerhouse, De Sarno had big shoes to fill. Michele’s tenure, characterized by a bold
Geek-Chic aesthetic, not only revitalized the brand but also set the bar high for creative

Stepping into this legacy, Sabato De Sarno brings a narrative that respects and
diverges from Michele’s path. He has altered the fashion mood with a breath of light air.
His inaugural collection, “Ancora,” is a striking departure from yore. And there was a lot
to admire – not least the fact that the designer’s first heartfelt acknowledgment for Gucci
was to be presented along the cobbled streets of Milan but changed its runway location
at the last moment because of pouring rain – resilience shone through!
De Sarno is about Gucci; it was apparent. He presented a practical and honest
collection, “not as a defiant shout against the echoes of Tom Ford’s sensual
extravagance, Alessandro Michele’s eclectic exuberance, or even the intellectualism of
Prada.” His collection was a curated blend of practical elegance, tailor-made for young
women in the real world.

De Sarno’s collection, “Ancora,” meaning “again” or “still” in Italian, signifies not only a
fresh chapter in Gucci’s legacy but also an emotion of wanting to return that feeling to
Gucci through a new, forward-thinking vision. “I want to fall in love with fashion, ancora,”
he said during a preview. “Still and again.” De Sarno ushers in an era where his ideals
are about crafting an optimistic and joyful ‘narrative’ that resonates with the present. It’s
a declaration of what Gucci stands for today – a provocative intelligence that embraces
its history and future narrative.

–Lizzy Bowring, Fashion Editor

Peter Hawkings at Tom Ford

The Tom Ford Spring 2024 collection, under the creative direction of Peter Hawkings, marked an inspiring new chapter. His ascendancy to this prestigious role, succeeding Ford, a figure synonymous with the brand’s aesthetic evolution, is both a celebration of continuity and a fresh interpretation of the brand’s ethos.

Hawkings, a long-time collaborator of Tom Ford, seamlessly blends the brand’s foundational principles with his distinct flair, showcasing a collection that resonates with elegance and modernity. The Spring 2024 collection, while paying homage to the brand’s iconic past, particularly the velvet suits and silk button-downs reminiscent of Tom Ford’s era at Gucci, also introduces fresh elements that signal a new direction under Hawkings’ stewardship.

This collection is marked by a sophisticated and refined approach, embracing both restraint and glamour. The influence of Donyale Luna, a trailblazing Black supermodel of the ’60s and ’70s, infuses the designs with a rich narrative, connecting the past’s elegance with contemporary sensibilities. Hawkings’ interpretation of Ford’s legacy through this collection is a delicate balance between maintaining the brand’s signature allure and introducing a modern, uncontrived elegance.

Hawkings’ debut at Tom Ford is not just a continuation of tradition; it is a thoughtful evolution of the brand’s identity, merging its historic charm with a modern, relaxed sophistication. It represents a pivotal moment in Tom Ford’s journey, promising to leave a lasting impression in the annals of fashion with its blend of classic allure and contemporary refinement.

–Mackenzie Richard, Head of Editorial