Kering on Wednesday confirmed Alessandro Michele’s exit from Gucci, the latest shakeup in the fashion industry after high profile departures at Burberry, Bottega Veneta and Ferragamo.
Mr Michele was a relatively unknown designer when he took the creative reigns at Gucci in 2015 and some saw the appointment by CEO Marco Bizzari as a gamble. Yet with his first collection he brought evolution to the house that had been struggling to keep momentum and influence after Tom Ford’s exit.
Investors had been waiting for that same design shift in recent seasons.
At the time of Michele’s appointment, Frida Giannini and Patrizio di Marco, then Gucci’s Creative Director and CEO, were fired by Kering Chairman François-Henri Pinault, a messy exit that Pinault hoped to avoid with Michele. The luxury group did not suggest Mr Michele was asked to leave, and in a joint statement said Alessandro Michele is stepping down from his role, "having played a fundamental part in making the brand what it is today through his groundbreaking creativity, while staying true to the renowned codes of the House."
Mr Pinault iterated: “The road that Gucci and Alessandro walked together over the past years is unique and will remain as an outstanding moment in the history of the House. I am grateful to Alessandro for bringing so much of himself in this adventure. His passion, his imagination, his ingenuity and his culture put Gucci center stage, where its place is. I wish him a great next chapter in his creative journey.”
“His ingenuity and his culture put Gucci center stage.”
Gucci in 2015 was the hottest brand on the luxury landscape. The gender-neutral silhouettes proposed by Mr Michele ignited a seismic shift not just at Gucci but influenced an entire industry. The styling became increasingly maximalist, with runway presentations a bohemian mix between old-school Hollywood and nerdy librarians, all the while boosting sales, where items like the Double G logo belt were flying off the shelves.
That momentum catapulted Gucci’s revenue to unprecedented growth, accounting for nearly two-thirds of Kering revenue. In 2015 sales jumped 15.4 percent and by the last quarter of 2016 had surged 21 percent. It boosted Kering’s strongest year-on-year sales increase since 2012.
But if all good things in fashion come to en end, the double-digit growth slowed this year, with Gucci posting only a 4 percent rise in in Q1, below analyst expectations of 11 percent and below rivals like Louis Vuitton and Chanel.
Michele’s collections, however creative, had also caused fatigue, with buyers expressing a need for newness. Gucci's styling had been rich in colour and personas, the over-sized sunglasses and pussy-bow blouses have come to define a decade, but how do you top maximalism when the styling has reached maximalist heights?
The Gucci persona defined a decade, but has since caused fatigue
The pandemic brought with it not just a shift in consumer spending, where China’s store closures negatively impacted the luxury business and was especially hard on Gucci’s bottom line, but it also changed how people dressed. Trend-led fashion items made way for timeless classics and tailoring was replaced with comfortwear. Gucci offered little in the way of pared-down luxury, and the company took steps to appoint a new merchandising director to focus on more commercial product.
Despite the brand’s stellar catwalk show this season, a well-regarded presentation of twins and duality, the hype it elicited in 2015 has waned, and Kering cannot afford Gucci to be staid.
Even as Saint Laurent is on its way to surpass 3 billion euros in 2022 and Bottega Veneta nudges its way to 2 billion euros, Gucci has always been the star performer in the Kering portfolio.
As hype for Gucci’s magpie fashion failed to reach analyst expectations, only a brand refresh could return it to the earlier levels of desire. It has also left some wondering if current CEO Mr Bizzari will similarly depart.
Alessandro Michele posted on his Instagram: “There are times when paths part ways because of the different perspectives each one of us may have. Today an extraordinary journey ends for me, lasting more than twenty years, within a company to which I have tirelessly dedicated all my love and creative passion.”
"During this long period Gucci has been my home, my adopted family. To this extended family, to all the individuals, who have looked after and supported it, I send my most sincere thanks, my biggest and most heartfelt embrace. Together with them I have wished, dreamed, imagined.”
Kering said Gucci’s design office will continue to carry the direction of the House forward until a new creative organization will be announced.