MILAN — It has been the talk of fashion for the last two months. Ever since Gucci and Alessandro Michele abruptly split in November, there hasn’t been a single industry operator or fashionista who hasn’t speculated about the reasons for the divorce; they imagined behind-the-scenes scenarios or weighed in with their two cents on the direction the brand would or should take next.
While many questions remain unanswered, they add to the palpable curiosity surrounding the brand’s men’s show scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. here, when the company’s post-Michele era will officially begin.
For those who believe in fashion cycles, there is a beautiful symmetry in the timing. The upcoming runway event will take place exactly eight years after the legendary Fall 2015 men’s show, which shifted fashion’s aesthetic and shaped the industry for years to come, placing Michele and Gucci at the epicenter of not just the fashion conversation, but the cultural one as well. Will history repeat itself with a collection with similar disruptive power?
Who knows? It is understood that the brand’s fall 2023 menswear collection will be presented by an in-house team that traditionally suggests continuity in moments of transition. But Gucci doesn’t really follow convention, because eight years ago, the same context didn’t stop Michele and a dozen members of the design team from taking their final bow after exchanging Frida Giannini’s 10-year tenure and polished jet-set lifestyle for a completely different image and a collection assembled during few days.
Buyers are also registering several directions the upcoming show could take. “Michele’s vision for his first Gucci men’s collection was surprising, unexpected and refreshing, sharing a wildly romantic angle that eclipsed the more overt sexiness the brand was previously known for,” said Bruce Pask, director of menswear at Neiman Marcus. and Bergdorf Goodman. “Gucci imbued a hugely creative, eccentric, fantastical vision that, importantly, saw the blurring of gender boundaries that could continue to inform the brand. I expect we’ll see an evolution of Michele’s vision for the brand, but imagine that there will be some aesthetic familiarity, as the design studio he led and led during his tenure is said to be responsible for creating this collection.
Ida Petersson, director of womenswear and buying at Browns, said she “hoped to see bold silhouettes that reaffirm Gucci as a popular menswear brand with elements of fluidity that Alessandro [Michele] introduced during his tenure. I would be very sad if this part was left behind.”
Meanwhile, Rinascente’s head of fashion, Federica Montelli, is already preparing for the first act of a more significant shift. “I imagine the design team is already moving away [Michele’s] maximalism and a shift to a sleeker, sexier look, while still maintaining some continuity with Alessandro’s tenure, pending a more visible change in direction when a new creative director is announced.”
Sam Lobban, executive vice president, general merchandising manager of apparel and designer at Nordstrom, left all doors open, stressing that “our customers gravitate towards Italian luxury from Gucci, and given this era, we don’t know what’s going to happen next for the brand. change, we’re excited to see what’s to come.”
Still, some seeds of change seem to have already sprouted. If Gucci’s ad campaign released this week, featuring Dakota Johnson in various versions of the brand’s 1961 Jackie handbag, is any indication, Michele’s fantasy world has expanded to become more grounded, its rich allegories and references transformed into an image that’s more immediate and easier to read.
After all, the demand to initiate a significant design shift aimed at further elevating the brand’s luxury positioning is what allegedly sparked the rift between Michele and Gucci’s and the top management of its parent Kering, led by Marc Bizzarri and Francois-Henri Pinault. And while many fans of Michele’s vision mourned for days at the thought of not being able to share in his flamboyant and eclectic style, analysts and observers generally applauded the brand’s decision to begin a new chapter, believing it would bring new energy, fresh creativity and business acceleration, as was stated.
Looking at customer behavior, “we didn’t see fatigue per se,” Petersson noted, but she acknowledged that there were some periods where the balance between fantasy, “important to the location” and the more commercial elements “wasn’t there.” and that it will be reflected in sales for ready-to-wear.
When asked what would be needed from the brand now from a strictly commercial point of view, Petersson still believes that the secret recipe lies in the right combination of these elements, as she pointed to “a good balance between fantasy, statement and commercial pieces. You need statement pieces to sell a dream, but most sales happen in commercial, easy-to-wear pieces.”
Montelli’s wishes from the brand would include “highly sought-after products, ‘It’ items that can generate hype for the brand, as it has in past seasons with several successful collaborations, as well as “a continued focus on leather goods. with styles that can speak to both younger generations and established consumers.”
Pask did not point to specific product categories, but still insisted on the need to maintain an element of unpredictability. “As buyers and merchants, we are always looking for collections that surprise and excite us, and that present a point of view that is unique, inventive and makes life special for our luxury customers,” he noted.
Although Gucci’s return to a solo men’s show was a decision made before Michele’s departure, it is another key factor that adds buzz to the event and reflects the fashion house’s focus on the category.
One of the points that observers have made since the split has been that despite its undeniable and long-lasting impact, Michele’s genderless designs have also led to 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 fill.
“The menswear business in general has seen extraordinary growth in recent years, particularly robust designer ready-to-wear, footwear and accessories. Gucci’s decision to re-show the men’s show is further confirmation of the importance of menswear not only for the brand, but also in the overall fashion environment and business,” affirmed Pask.
Montelli was therefore not surprised by Gucci’s “renewed focus on menswear as a standalone business” and believes “the menswear business will be one of the main strengths in the next term.”
“I welcome the move back to a separate men’s show,” agreed Petersson. “Women’s is a much bigger business for most 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 male, so it will be exciting to see what Gucci does to capture that audience.”
However, the primary question mark hangs not so much over what the brand will do, but rather over who will do it. Gucci may be waiting for a high-profile designer or look to in-house promotion as it has done in the past. While every household name—from Mario Grazia Chiuri to Daniel Roseberry—has been tossed around as a possible candidate for the job, internal candidates so far include Remo Macco, the Gucci veteran who was recently named 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 we have considered in the ‘succession game’ in the industry. I’d like to be completely surprised by the final selection and I expect nothing less from a powerhouse like Gucci,” concluded Montelli.