Alessandro Michele leaves Gucci

In the biggest creative shake-up by a fashion brand since the Covid-19 pandemic, Gucci announced on Wednesday that Alessandro Michele, its creative director, is leaving the company.

Mr Michele, 49, a Rome-born designer who took the top job in 2015, had been instrumental in transforming Gucci, seemingly overnight, from a declining symbol of 1990s glamor 2000 into an eccentric purveyor of inclusivity that embodied the larger cultural conversation around gender, sexual identity, and race.

His new vision for the brand has reverberated through the fashion industry and brought in tens of billions of dollars for Kering, the French luxury conglomerate that also owns Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, among other brands. It was Gucci, however, that was responsible for the bulk of the group’s profits, making almost €10 billion in sales in 2021 – and that’s Mr Michele and Gucci chief executive Marco Bizzarri, who were credited with the success.

At least as long as it was a success. Lately, however, the once unstoppable growth has begun to slow. And though Mr. Michele has attempted to expand Gucci’s reach via restaurants, the metaverse and collaborations with Adidas and Harry Styles, the core offering has begun to elicit yawns rather than desire. On Wednesday, 20 years after joining the company, Gucci confirmed in a statement that Mr. Michele was resigning and leaving the company.

“There are times when paths diverge due to the different perspectives each of us may have,” Michele said in a typically flowery statement that also thanked Gucci employees. “Today marks the end for me of an extraordinary career spanning more than twenty years within a company to which I have tirelessly devoted all my love and my creative passion.”

Kering Chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault added that “the path Gucci and Alessandro have traveled together over the years is unique and will remain an exceptional moment in the history of the house”.

Gucci’s design team will continue to produce collections until a successor is announced, the statement said.

Speculation over her departure, which was reported earlier by Women’s Wear Daily, prompted an initial rise in Kering’s share price as markets opened on Wednesday, with analysts noting a new designer could help reinvigorate businesses. sales.

“Gucci suffers from brand fatigue, and consumers who bought early, especially the Chinese, got bored first,” Luca Solca of research firm Sanford C. Bernstein said in a note to investors. emphasizing the importance of China for Western luxury. market and Gucci in particular (with the country responsible for more than a third of all sales).

“To re-accelerate, he has to open a new creative chapter,” he said. “We should credit Kering for knowing what they are doing, given that they have consistently and successfully revived faded brands in the past.”

Mr. Michele’s tenure at Gucci is a good example. He joined the brand in 2002 as an accessories designer and was almost completely unknown outside the company when Mr. Bizzarri appointed him creative director, giving him free rein not only in products, but also stores, campaigns and communication.

Her magpie aesthetic, which varied freely across time periods, benchmarks and conceptions of beauty, seemed perfectly calibrated for the more democratic era of social media. Her shows were hodgepodge of things – jewelry, eyewear, bags and clothes – that celebrated character rather than chic. His long hair and beard made him look like a counterculture guru (his propensity to quote Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes in his show notes helped), and fashion practically treated him as such, especially once the numbers started to increase.

A year ago, he held his first live show since the pandemic began in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Dakota Johnson and Billie Eilish (who often wore Gucci in public) and Jared Leto on the podium. Her final show at Milan Fashion Week, an ode to identical twins, was one of the most hyped of the season.

But an unexpected, unsentimental shift at the top has become something of a pattern at Kering. This is the third time that Mr. Pinault has suddenly changed direction for his flagship brand. The first time was in 2004 when he parted ways with Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole and the second was in 2014 when he fired designer Frida Giannini and managing director Patrizio di Marco.

He notably shocked the fashion world when he appointed upstart designer Demna as artistic director of revered Balenciaga in 2015 (which turned out to be a prescient decision) and then shocked it again last year. when he announced Daniel Lee’s surprise departure from Bottega Veneta. after a successful run, if only for three years.

Mr Michele’s exit also follows a new game of musical chairs in the luxury fashion industry, which is still recovering from the fallout of the Covid pandemic on its sales and supply chains.

In September, Burberry announced that Mr. Lee would be its new creative director, replacing Riccardo Tisci. He, in turn, had been replaced at Bottega Veneta by its design director, rising star Matthieu Blazy. This month, Tom Ford sold his eponymous brand to Estée Lauder. And then Raf Simons, the Belgian designer and co-creative director of Prada alongside Miuccia Prada, said he was closing his small but highly influential namesake brand after 27 years, signaling the challenges of independent names. Rumors continue to grow that former Celine designer Phoebe Philo will be launching a new brand next year.

Now the focus will be on what happens next with Gucci – how dizzying changes will come next – and whether Mr Bizzarri will leave as well. The brand is due to unveil its next men’s collection in Milan in January. As always, the show will go on.

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