Gucci hits the runway as the fashion world awaits a new designer

Gucci kicked off Milan Fashion Week on Friday with a series of relaxed, androgynous menswear styles, moving forward with its latest collection as the industry waits for owner Kering to name a new designer for the label.

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 restart 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 looms over the megabrand’s first men’s show in the Italian fashion capital in three years. The events run until January 17, attracting crowds that include major retail buyers who gauge which styles might be best sellers in the future.

A model at the Gucci show.

A model at the Gucci show. Credit: Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

There were echoes of Michele’s eccentric, gender-fluid styles at Gucci’s catwalk presentation on Friday.

Models circled the darkened room to the snarling music of Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog band, parading oversized coats with wide lapels and baggy, pleated trousers in pale beige and pastel tones, with new renditions of house classics, alongside reminders of Michele’s tenure, including horse-ear fur slippers .

“A palette cleanser from the collections we’ve seen over the past 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 its signature look as well as new customers.

The show notes, which customers scrutinize for signs of the label’s next steps, were all about improvisation and collaboration.

“When the free impulses of individual minds intertwine, collective expressions are conceived,” the brand notes.

Models walked around the darkened room to live music.

Models walked around the darkened room to live music. Credit: Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

Sparkling silver pants and quilted motorcycle boots added a touch of sparkle to the neutral-colored looks, which were won over by celebrities in the audience, including K-pop star Kaia, American football player Jalen Ramsey and Italian rock band Maneskin.

UBS expects Kering’s Feb. 15 earnings release to show the label’s fourth-quarter sales fell by about 11%, likely one of the more pronounced slowdowns among the world’s leading fashion brands, as strict Covid-19 restrictions have 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, noting that “more of the same” will not help the label regain its relevance with customers.

Timeless fashion, marketing investment

HSBC analysts, meanwhile, said efforts undertaken before Michele’s departure could ease the transition, predicting an improvement this year regardless of who takes over the creative direction.

They pointed to a recent emphasis on timeless fashion and higher-end products, as well as an increase in marketing spend and an increase in the number of collections that will likely serve to accelerate business.

Gucci has held back on marketing investments during the pandemic, while larger rival LVMH’s two biggest labels, Louis Vuitton and Dior, have pushed ahead, a move analysts say has helped them gain an edge over rivals.

Kering’s other smaller fashion houses Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga saw strong growth late last year, but Balenciaga was caught up in controversy after a holiday ad campaign sparked accusations of inappropriate images with children.
Another look from the Gucci Fall/Winter Menswear Show in Milan, Italy on January 13, 2023.

Another look from the Gucci Fall/Winter Menswear Show in Milan, Italy on January 13, 2023. Credit: Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

However, despite the current turbulence at Kering, expectations are high given the group’s strong history of nurturing brands, 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 story in luxury history.”

The industry is also expecting big changes at other blockbuster labels.

Top management changes at Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior were announced this week, prompting talk that a reshuffle of the design team could follow, including Louis Vuitton’s menswear division, which has relied on the design studio team since the death of creative director Virgil Abloh in late 2021.

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