MILAN — Could a major change be taking place at Gucci?
Well-placed sources here say that creative director Alessandro Michele is exiting the brand.
A statement is expected as early as Wednesday. Gucci did not respond to repeated requests for comment late Tuesday Milan time. Reached early on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for parent company Kering said: “We have no comment.”
A source who spoke on condition of anonymity told WWD that Michele “was asked to initiate a strong design shift” to light a fire under the brand, but the designer did not meet the request. Another source said François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive officer of Gucci’s parent Kering, is looking at a change of pace for the group’s star brand.
This would not be the first time Pinault has shaken up one of Kering’s key brands. Last November, in a surprise move, Pinault ousted Daniel Lee from Bottega Veneta despite the designer’s strong performance at the brand and much critical success.
Lee, who is now creative director at Burberry, was succeeded at Bottega by Matthieu Blazy, who had been in the brand’s studio. Blazy in two seasons has rapidly put his mark on the brand, taking it back to its artisanal roots.
Pinault could be looking to do the same at Gucci, even though Michele’s most recent show for the brand in September was one of the standouts of the spring 2023 season. The designer sent out a stream of models in both his signature androgynous looks as well as some that were more restrained with an injection of more classic tailoring.
The twist came when a partition lifted to show that half the audience was watching the exact same show — the models in the show were all identical twins, in a personal reflection of Michele about identity. He revealed after the show that his mother was a twin and so he always felt he had two mothers.
Michele was officially appointed to the top creative role in January 2015, two days after he first took a bow at the end of Gucci’s men’s fall 2015 show.
With that seminal show he reinvented Gucci with a completely new, quirky and androgynous aesthetic that toppled his predecessor Frida Giannini’s sophisticated jet-set lifestyle image.
Gucci president and CEO Marco Bizzarri selected Michele to succeed Giannini, who had exited a week earlier, and has long been a strong supporter of the designer. However, one source believes “the honeymoon with Bizzarri is over, and the relationship is not as strong as before.”
It may be telling that Michele did not fly to Seoul for Gucci’s repeat Cosmogonie show, scheduled for Nov. 1, which was canceled following the tragic events in the South Korean city, where more than 150 people were killed and dozens were injured after being crushed in a large crowd in the Itaewon nightlife district while celebrating Halloween.
If confirmed, the news comes ahead of Gucci’s return to Milan’s Men’s Fashion Week in January.
Michele’s gender-fluid and romantic spirit has influenced a slew of other designers, and his tenure at Gucci helped the brand cater to a younger and more diverse customer, as well as boost its business. After his appointment, Gucci posted growth exceeding 35 percent for five consecutive quarters by the first quarter of 2018, prompting Bizzarri to set a 10 billion euro revenue target for the brand in June that year.
However, Kering last month reported that its cash cow Gucci continued to underperform versus the group’s other brands, although organic sales picked up pace in the third quarter. Revenues at the Italian label totaled 2.6 billion euros, up 9 percent on a like-for-like basis, following a 4 percent rise in the second quarter.
That was slightly below a consensus of analysts’ estimates, which called for a 10 percent increase in comparable sales at the maker of Dionysus handbags and horsebit loafers. By comparison, organic sales at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s key fashion and leather goods division rose 22 percent year-over-year in the third quarter.
Bizzarri took on his role at Gucci on Jan. 1, 2015, succeeding Patrizio di Marco. He told WWD at the time that elevating Michele to the post of creative director was “looking from outside, not the most obvious choice,” but that he was “exactly the right person” for that position, tasked with halting Gucci’s then-performance declines.
Michele joined the Gucci design studio in 2002 following a stint as senior accessories designer at Fendi. He was appointed “associate” to Giannini in 2011, and in 2014 took on the additional responsibility of creative director of Richard Ginori, the porcelain brand acquired by Gucci in 2013.