It’s the end of an era for Italy’s biggest fashion brand.
Alessandro Michele, creative director of Gucci since 2015, is set to leave the company. Gucci’s design studio will “continue to carry the direction of the house forward” until a new creative configuration is announced, the Kering-owned brand said in a statement.
“There are times when paths diverge because of the different perspectives each of us may have. Today marks the end of an extraordinary journey for me, lasting more than twenty years, in a company to which I have tirelessly dedicated all my love and creative passion,” said Michele.
“The path that Gucci and Alessandro walked together in recent years is unique and will remain as an outstanding moment in the house’s history,” said Kering CEO François-Henri Pinault. “His passion, his imagination, his ingenuity and his culture put Gucci at the center.”
After taking the creative reins at Gucci in 2015, Michele stirred excitement around the Milan-headquartered house, soon dominating the fashion zeitgeist with her decadent layering of brand signatures, streetwear-inspired merchandising and quirky, gender-fluid styling. An all-encompassing revamp of Gucci’s products, communications and store decor led by Michele alongside CEO Marco Bizzarri attracted a voracious following for the brand, helping usher in a new, younger generation of consumers to a luxury industry that had catered to taste. by more mature buyers.
From 2015 to 2019, Gucci’s revenue roughly tripled and profits quadrupled during a period of rapid expansion never seen in the modern luxury sector – with quarterly growth rates at times approaching 50 percent. This year, Gucci is expected to end the year with an annual turnover of more than 10 billion euros ($10.3 billion), a major milestone for the company.
But Gucci was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic – with revenue falling 22 percent in 2020 – and has since grown far more slowly than mega-brand rivals such as Louis Vuitton, Dior and Hermès, whose sales exploded as consumers shaken by uncertainty flocked. to blue-chip luxury items considered unlikely to go out of style.
The slower momentum at Gucci is partly due to a higher exposure to struggling channels, including wholesale, discount and travel, whose share of the business the company has since worked to reduce.
But there were also signs of consumer fatigue as the novelty factor of Michele’s twisted, maximalist aesthetic wore off. In a February meeting with reporters, Kering chairman François-Henri Pinault said he wanted the company’s brands to refocus their efforts on a more timeless approach to luxury.
In recent seasons, Michele’s designs for Gucci have included more understated, high-end fare: less streetwear and more tailoring or embroidered knitwear, and classic handbags that have used one or two key brand signatures like horse bits and red-green stripes rather than layering them . decorative elements such as painted flowers, moth-shaped charms or cartoon characters. Gucci hired a new merchandising director to revamp its commercial offering, as well as announcing a full return to its 6-collection-a-year fashion calendar in a bid to boost innovation and novelty.
Yet the evolution of Gucci’s collections has struggled to capture consumers’ attention, perhaps drowned out by the designer’s ultra-consistent, funky top-line message, which continues to be reinforced by over-the-top styling on the runways (headscarves and eyeglass chains abound) and a campy, old-Hollywood vibe on the red carpet.
Sales missed estimates for the third quarter, rising 9 percent compared with a 22 percent jump at Vuitton owner LVMH and 24 percent growth at Hermès.
Analysts and investors have raised concerns that Gucci’s recent changes will not be enough to accelerate growth in line with peers.
“Gucci is suffering from brand fatigue,” Bernstein analyst Luca Solca wrote in a note to clients. “To re-accelerate, Gucci doesn’t need to go mainstream or become timeless. It must open a new creative chapter.”
Michele has also hinted that he could use a break just as the brand attempts to accelerate its creative rhythm. “Working is becoming more and more intense for me,” he told reporters after his show at Milan Fashion Week in September. “This fatigue is something else. The backstage work [this season] was more tiring than usual, he added.
Shares rose 2 percent in early trading Wednesday after a Women’s Wear Daily report citing unnamed sources that Michele’s departure from the brand was imminent.
Additional reporting by Lauren Sherman.