Gucci kicked off Milan Fashion Week on Friday with a series of slim, androgynous men’s styles, pushing ahead with its latest collection as the industry waits for owner Kering to name a new designer for the brand. French luxury group Kering is facing pressure to quickly find a replacement after the sudden departure in November of Alessandro Michele, the flamboyant designer who was a favorite of Harry Styles and Lady Gaga, and to reignite sales growth at its biggest brand, which accounted for two-thirds of profits in 2021.
The question of who will steer Gucci’s creative direction loomed large over the mega-brand’s first men’s show in Italy’s fashion capital in three years. The events run until January 17 and attract an audience that includes major retail buyers who determine which styles could be future best sellers. There were echoes of Michele’s eccentric, gender-fluid style on the Gucci catwalk on Friday.
Models circled the darkened room to the snarling music of Marc Ribot’s live band Ceramic Dog, showing off oversized suit coats with wide lapels and rich pleated trousers in pale beige and pastel tones, with new takes on house classics alongside nods to Michele’s tenure, including furry slippers adorned with a horse piece . “A palette cleanser from the collections we’ve seen over the last few seasons,” said Simon Longland, head of menswear and womenswear at London department store Harrods.
He said the show provided a “new approach” to the house’s styles, with a range of fabrics and jacket shapes likely to appeal to fans of her signature look as well as new customers. Show notes that buyers examine to indicate next steps in etiquette, involving improvisation and collaboration.
“When the free impulses of individual minds intertwine, collective expressions are created,” the brand notes. Glittering silver pants and quilted biker boots added a touch of flamboyance to the neutral-colored look, which was embraced by celebrities in the audience including K-pop star Kai, American football player Jalen Ramsey and Italian rock band Maneskin.
UBS expects Kering’s Feb. 15 earnings release to show the brand’s fourth-quarter sales fell about 11%, likely one of the sharpest slowdowns among the world’s leading fashion brands, as severe COVID-19 restrictions weighed on business in China . “The longer the wait for a new Gucci creative director, the worse the outlook for Kering,” said Luca Solca, an analyst at Bernstein, adding that “more of the same” would not help the brand regain its relevance among shoppers.
TIMELESS FASHION, MARKETING INVESTMENT HSBC analysts, meanwhile, said efforts made before Michele’s departure could ease the transition, and they predict improvements this year regardless of who takes the creative direction.
They pointed to a recent emphasis on timeless fashion and higher-priced products, as well as an increase in marketing spend and an increase in the number of collections, which likely serve to boost business. Gucci has held back on marketing investment during the pandemic, while LVMH’s two biggest labels, Louis Vuitton and Dior, have pushed ahead, a move analysts say has helped them gain ground on rivals.
Kering’s other, smaller fashion houses Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga saw strong growth towards the end of last year, but Balenciaga became embroiled in controversy after a holiday ad campaign sparked allegations of inappropriate images with children. But despite the current turmoil at Kering, expectations are high given the group’s strong track record in brand care, analysts say.
The group’s brands are known for “capturing the Zeitgeist,” noted Solca, who said Gucci’s past success was “the most impressive turnaround in the history of luxury.” The industry is also expecting big changes for other blockbuster labels.
Top management changes at Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior announced this week have fueled talk that a change in the design team could follow, including at Louis Vuitton’s menswear division, which has been struggling since the death of creative director Virgil Abloh at the end of the year. 2021 relies on the team of the design studio.
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