MILAN — It’s been the fashion talk of the last two months. Since Gucci and Alessandro Michele suddenly parted ways in November, there hasn’t been a single industry operator or fashion enthusiast who hasn’t speculated about the causes of the divorce; imagined behind-the-scenes scenarios or weighed in with their two cents on the direction the brand will or should take next.
While many questions remain unanswered, they are contributing to the palpable curiosity surrounding the brand’s men’s show scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. here, when the post-Michele era will officially kick off at the company.
For those who believe in fashion cycles, there’s a beautiful symmetry in the timing. The upcoming runway event will come exactly eight years after the legendary men’s fall 2015 show that shifted fashion aesthetics and shaped the industry for the years to come, putting Michele and Gucci at the epicenter of not only a fashion conversation but a cultural one, too. Will history repeat itself with a collection with a similar disruptive force?
Who knows? It is understood that the brand’s men’s fall 2023 collection will be presented by an in-house team, which traditionally suggests continuity in moments of transition. But Gucci doesn’t really abide by convention, as eight years ago the same context didn’t stop Michele and a dozen members of the design team from taking their final bow after swapping Frida Giannini’s 10-year tenure and polished jet-set lifestyle for a completely different image and a collection put together in only a few days.
The multiple directions the upcoming show could take are registered by buyers, too. “Michele’s vision for his first Gucci men’s runway collection was surprising, unexpected and refreshing, sharing an overwhelmingly romantic point of view that eclipsed the more overt sexiness for which the brand had been previously known,” said Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director of Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. “He imbued Gucci with an expansively creative, eccentric, fantastical vision that importantly saw the blurring of gender boundaries that could continue to inform the brand. I do expect that we will see an evolution of the brand vision of Michele, but imagine there will be some aesthetic familiarity as the design studio he led and guided during his tenure is said to be responsible for the creation of this collection.”
Ida Petersson, buying director at Browns, said she was “hoping to see strong statement silhouettes, reconfirming Gucci as a go-to brand for menswear with the elements of fluidity that Alessandro [Michele] introduced during his tenure. I would be very sad to see this part getting left behind.”
Meanwhile, Rinascente’s head of fashion Federica Montelli is already bracing herself to see the first act of a more substantial shift. “I imagine the design team is already moving away from [Michele’s] maximalism and shifting to a more sleek, sexy look, while still keeping some sort of continuity with respect to Alessandro’s tenure, waiting for a more visible change of direction when the new creative director will be announced.”
Sam Lobban, executive vice president, general merchandising manager of apparel and designer at Nordstrom, left all doors open while stressing that “our customers gravitate toward Gucci’s take on Italian luxury and while we don’t know what’s next for the brand given this time of change, we’re excited to see what’s to come.”
Yet some seeds of change seem to have already sprouted. If the Gucci ad campaign released this week that portrays Dakota Johnson with various renditions of the brand’s Jackie 1961 bag is any indication, Michele’s fantasy world has expanded to a more grounded one, his rich allegories and references switched for an image that is more immediate and easier to read.
After all, the demand of initiating a strong design shift aimed at further elevating the brand’s luxury positioning is what allegedly sparked the fracture between Michele and Gucci’s and its parent Kering’s top management, led by Marco Bizzarri and Francois-Henri Pinault, respectively. And whereas the many fans of Michele’s vision mourned for days at the idea of not being able to partake in his flamboyant and eclectic style, analysts and observers generally approved of the brand’s decision to kick off a new chapter, believing it will bring new energy, fresh creativity and a business acceleration, as reported.
Looking at customers’ behavior, “we haven’t seen a fatigue per se,” noted Petersson, but she acknowledged there were some seasons when the balance between fantasy, “important for positioning,” and the more commercial elements “were off,” and that this would be reflected by the sales for ready-to-wear.
Asked what would be needed now from the brand from a strictly commercial point of view, Petersson still believes the secret recipe lies in the right combination of those elements as she pointed to “a good balance between fantasy, statement and commercial pieces. You need the statement pieces to sell the dream but the commercial, easy-to-wear pieces are where most of the sales are made.”
Montelli’s desiderata from the brand would include “very covetable products, ‘It’ items that can drive hype for the brand, as it has been done in the past seasons with the several successful collaborations,” as well as “a continued focus on leather goods with styles that can speak both to the younger generations and the established consumers.”
Pask didn’t point to specific product categories but still urged the need to preserve the element of unpredictability. “We as buyers and merchants are always looking for collections that surprise and excite us, and that present a point of view that is singular, inventive, and that will make life extraordinary for our luxury customers,” he noted.
Although Gucci’s return to a solo men’s show was a decision taken prior to Michele’s departure, this is another key factor adding buzz around the event and reflecting the fashion house’s focus on the category.
One of the points that has been raised by observers since the split was that, despite their undeniable and long-lasting impact, Michele’s genderless designs also resulted in missed opportunities for Gucci’s menswear business. At a time when menswear is experiencing momentum across-the-board, the gap was too tempting not to be filled.
“The menswear business in general has continued to see extraordinary growth in recent years, with designer ready-to-wear, footwear and accessories especially robust. Gucci’s decision to once again present a men’s show is yet another affirmation of the importance of menswear not only for the brand but also in the overall fashion landscape and business,” confirmed Pask.
Hence, Montelli wasn’t surprised by Gucci’s “renewed focus on menswear as a stand-alone business” and believes “the menswear business will be one of the main strengths in the next tenure.”
“I welcome a move back to a separate show for men’s,” agreed Petersson. “Women’s is a much bigger business for most of the luxury players and sometimes when there’s a coed show, the men’s element disappears. From what we can see, the biggest growing segment in luxury is actually men’s, so it will be exciting to see what Gucci will do to capture this audience.”
Still, the primary question mark doesn’t hang on what will be done by the brand as much as who will do it. Gucci may be waiting for a high-profile designer or look at an internal promotion, as it has done in the past. While every established name — from Maria Grazia Chiuri to Daniel Roseberry — has been thrown about as a possible candidate for the job, in-house candidates so far include Remo Macco, a Gucci veteran who was recently appointed studio design director; Davide Renne, also a longtime Gucci designer, and Marco Maria Lombardi, a member of Gucci’s design studio, as reported.
“There are many designers that we in the industry have considered in the ‘succession game.’ I would like to be completely surprised by the final choice, and I expect nothing less from such a powerhouse as Gucci,” concluded Montelli.