After weeks of speculation, Gucci, along with parent company Kering, has confirmed the appointment of Alessandro Michele as the brand’s new creative director. Michele’s first collection in his new role, women’s ready-to-wear for Autumn/Winter 2015-2016, will be presented on 25 February in Milan.
Michele, 42, was previously head accessories designer at the Italian luxury megabrand and replaces former Gucci creative director Frida Giannini, who abruptly exited the label earlier this month, ahead of her planned departure after the upcoming women’s shows.
“After a considered and thorough selection process, Alessandro Michele has been chosen to assume the role as Gucci creative director, based upon the contemporary vision he has articulated for the brand that he will now bring to life,” said Marco Bizzarri, president and chief executive officer of Gucci in a statement. “Alessandro and I are fully aligned on this new contemporary vision needed by the brand.”
“Alessandro’s talent and his knowledge of the company and the design teams in place will for sure allow him to move quickly and seamlessly in implementing his new creative direction for the collections and the brand,” continued Bizzarri, who was previously the CEO of Kering’s couture and leather goods division and replaced former Gucci CEO Patrizio di Marco as part of a broader shake up after Giannini and di Marco failed to reenergise the brand in the face of shrinking sales.
François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of Kering, said in a statement: “Throughout its history, Gucci has always created attention and excitement through its innovative and distinctive products and collections as it has become Italy’s most renowned fashion house and one of the most iconic and prominent luxury brands in the world. Alessandro Michele has both the qualities and the vision necessary to bring a new contemporary perspective to Gucci and lead the brand into an exciting new creative chapter of its history.”
The news of Michele’s appointment follows the presentation of Gucci’s latest menswear collection, staged in Milan on Monday, which was completely redesigned at the last minute by the designer after Giannini’s early exit was announced. The collection, which featured flamboyant silk pussy-bow blouses and soft berets, was generally well received and the designer was credited with bringing a new youthful energy to the brand, though some noted apparent references to Saint Laurent and JW Anderson. Shown on both male and female models, Michele’s designs played with gender and androgyny in an apparent rebuttal to the hypersexual masculinity of previous Gucci collections.
But behind this week’s announcement the chance it gives to the Rome-born 42-year-old Michele – a name unknown outside the Gucci coterie – is a complex story of luxury shivering in a cold climate.
Since Gucci’s recent sales had been more or less stagnant for the $4 billion brand, it had seemed inevitable that, after nine years at the helm, Giannini and her partner and CEO Patrizio di Marco, would be replaced. Across the luxury world, after two decades of solid growth, many companies are counting the cost of a slowdown in China and a hiccup in the established methods of increasing business geographically and demographically.
Michele takes the creative helm at a time when Gucci, which accounts for about half of Kering’s total luxury business, is under considerable pressure to regain traction in the face of shrinking sales revenue. In the third quarter of 2014, Gucci revenues fell by 1.6 percent to €851 million (about $1.13 billion). The disappointing results come in the context of an industry-wide slowdown, though Gucci sales have suffered in particular as consumers in the all-important Chinese market shift spending away from conspicuous megabrands at a rate far faster than predicted.
It is not just that there are few nations or countries left to conquer. The entire fashion system of choosing a star designer to electrify a dusty brand – see Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel in 1983, Tom Ford at Gucci in 1994, and John Galliano at Dior in 1996 – is looking shaky. First, there are not enough exceptionally creative people to go round; if they are put in place, an iron legal agreement binds them to the brand – and with the pressure to produce ever-more between-season collections, there is a risk that a designer’s skill fades or, at worst, he/she collapses under the pressure or resorts to those well-known props of drink and drugs.
Designer musical chairs is a costly and risky business. Since LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) and Kering, formally PPR, are the main contenders, they fight for the top talent. It is not surprising to find that in 2002, a year after LVMH bought a stake in Fendi, Alessandro was poached by Gucci. Working alongside Frida Giannini, he continued to focus on leather goods – the cash cow of most luxury companies.