By  on December 7, 2004

In a year punctuated with high-profile arrivals and departures in the rarefied designer realm — Michael Kors leaving Celine, Julien Macdonald exiting Givenchy, Jil Sander saying goodbye to Prada again, and Perry Ellis losing Patrick Robinson — the biggest news was undoubtedly generated by Gucci Group.

Gucci, a key brand rejuvenation miracle of the Nineties, underwent a different kind of transformation. All told, there was enough upheaval in the management and design departments to keep the Italian brand locked on the front page.

The industry entered the new year still reeling from the bombshell news in late 2003 that Gucci’s dynamic duo, creative director Tom Ford and chief executive officer Domenico De Sole, would exit the multibrand luxury group they built on April 30.

Even as retailers lathered over the possibility of a shopping frenzy for Ford’s collectible final collections for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, speculation mounted over how Gucci Group parent Pinault-Printemps-Redoute would fill the enormous shoes of the two men.

On the design front, Alexander McQueen was immediately touted as a lead contender to succeed Ford at YSL, and then, later at Gucci.

Meanwhile, PPR quietly engaged two executive recruitment firms to find De Sole’s successor — and it quickly became evident the search went beyond luxury and fashion into industries such as retail, fast-moving consumer goods and food and beverages.

But still, the show must go on, and Ford delivered four farewell shows for the season, including an electrifying tour de force in Milan for Gucci last March that climaxed with a shower of rose petals and diva Ultra Nate blaring on the soundtrack, “You’re free, to do what you want to do!”

“I’m so proud,” declared a teary-eyed Dawn Mello, the longtime fashion executive who recruited Ford from Perry Ellis to Gucci in 1990.

Behind the scenes, however, acrimony was reaching a bilious boil. In an interview with WWD, Ford blasted PPR chief executive Serge Weinberg for being “naïve” about fashion and for implying that salary demands were the deal-breaker in contract negotiations. “I realized that I have nothing to learn about luxury from Serge Weinberg,” Ford said.

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