Designing Gucci will remain an inside job in the immediate future — and perhaps permanently.

This story first appeared in the January 13, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

On Monday, the Italian fashion house, confirmed a WWD report that Frida Giannini has exited early as its creative director and that “Gucci’s talented and dedicated men’s and women’s design teams” would take credit for their fall 2015 shows, scheduled for Jan. 19 and Feb. 25, respectively.

Meanwhile, sources suggested that Giannini’s deputy Alessandro Michele is emerging as the front-runner to assume the creative leadership, following a WWD report Saturday that he was among the top picks for the job.

Giannini has exited more than a month earlier than expected.

“I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the outstanding contribution that Frida Giannini has made to Gucci’s legacy during her nine-year tenure as creative director,” said Marco Bizzarri, president and chief executive officer of Gucci.

An official announcement concerning the appointment of Giannini’s successor “will be made in due course,” the company noted.

Over the weekend, sources told WWD that Giannini was asked on Friday to leave the company. It is understood Gucci cut short Giannini’s contract in a bid to facilitate decision-making about the brand’s future creative direction.

“The decision [about Giannini’s successor] needs to be made, so that it can have an impact on the upcoming collections and shows,” said one source.

According to a Milan source, Michele, Gucci’s head accessories designer and the creative director of Gucci-owned Richard Ginori, has not had a hand in the ready-to-wear collections helmed by Giannini. Rather, he has direct responsibility for the leather goods and shoes — which accounted for 72 percent of Gucci revenues in 2013 — plus jewelry and home collections.

While the two Roman designers worked together at Fendi earlier in their careers and went on to become a closely-knit duo at Gucci, their fashion aesthetics have diverged in recent years, with Michele possessing a “refined” sensibility, according to the same Milan source.

A separate source familiar with Michele described him as “passionate about interiors and antiquities.” He called Michele “one of Giannini’s closest friends,” saying the two often spent holidays together. The source said Giannini had always taken steps to surround herself with people she could trust, prizing their loyalty.

Indeed, more than one source said it is likely Giannini reacted badly to the news that Michele was set to replace her, precipitating her early departure. “If Michele is indeed one of the top contenders, she may have seen this as a betrayal of sorts,” said one source.

Another source added: “If it had been someone coming from outside Gucci, there would not have been clashes for vertical power until [Frida] had left. But how could she assert her power with her team if her second in command was there and due to take on her role?”

A separate source familiar with Michele’s management style called him “the pulse of Gucci’s design studio, a hard worker who puts a lot of care into his designs.”

The revelation that Michele is a top contender for the creative director role suggests that Gucci parent Kering, controlled by France’s Pinault family, is keen to break a long cycle of musical chairs in design studios by cultivating and promoting its homegrown talents.

As reported, Gucci has a track record of promoting from within.

When the brand was faced with replacing its tag-team of Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole when they exited in 2004, it promoted a trio of insiders — Alessandra Facchinetti, Giannini and John Ray — to succeed Ford at the design helm, heading women’s ready-to-wear, accessories and men’s wear, respectively.

Giannini took over as the brand’s sole creative director in 2006.

Meanwhile, Givenchy’s star couturier Riccardo Tisci and Valentino’s Maria Grazia Chiuri are believed to be among other talents that have been considered for the Gucci job, along with Joseph Altuzarra. Kering took a minority stake in Altuzarra’s New York-based fashion house last year and the designer has sat front-row at the Gucci show.

Giannini and Gucci’s ceo Patrizio di Marco, who are partners and planning to marry, revealed in December that they would step down from their roles. Di Marco has already left and on Jan. 1 was succeeded by Bizzarri, who was previously head of Kering’s luxury couture and leather goods division.

The failure of the couple to turn around the flagging brand precipitated their departure, setting off a guessing game as to who would succeed Giannini and who might be able to get the brand back on a solid growth track.

Gucci is trying to reverse sliding sales in China and elsewhere by reinventing itself with fewer logo products. In the third quarter of 2014, Gucci revenues slipped 1.6 percent to 851 million euros, or $1.13 billion, despite positive trends in directly operated stores in North America and Japan, as reported.

At the time, the company cited “solid trends” in handbags, which represent 32 percent of retail sales, fanned by the new Swing and Bright Diamante lines, with the Jackie Soft also showing promise. It also touted double-digit growth for Giannini’s fall ready-to-wear.

But sales in Asia Pacific declined 5 percent, reflecting the disruption of pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong and Macau, as reported.

RELATED CONTENT: Gucci RTW Spring 2015 >>