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

Gucci kicked off Milan Fashion Week on Friday with a range of casual, androgynous menswear 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 under 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 revive sales growth at its biggest brand, which represented two third of earnings in 2021

The question of who will lead Gucci’s creative direction hung over the mega-brand’s first men’s show in the Italian fashion capital in three years. The events run through January 17, attracting an audience that includes major retail buyers who determine which styles could be future best sellers.

Gucci show model. credit: Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

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

Models strutted around a darkened room to snarling live music from Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog band, flaunting 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 leather slippers decorated with horses.

“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 his signature look as well as new customers.

Display notes that shoppers scrutinize for signs of the label’s next steps involving improvisation and collaboration.

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

Models walked around a darkened room to live music.

Models walked around a darkened room to live music. credit: Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters

Sparkling silver pants and quilted motorcycle boots added touches of opulence to the neutral-colored looks, which were snapped up by celebrities in the audience, including K-pop star Kai, American football player Jalen Ramsey and Italian rock band Maneskin.

UBS expects Kering’s earnings call on February 15 to show that the brand’s fourth-quarter sales fell by around 11%, possibly one of the more pronounced slowdowns among the world’s top fashion brands, as strict Covid-19 restrictions 19 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 among the buyers.

Timeless fashion, marketing investment

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

They pointed to the 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, as likely to accelerate business.

Gucci has held back on marketing investment 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 keep pace with rivals.

Kering’s other, smaller fashion houses Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga grew strongly late last year, but Balenciaga was embroiled in controversy after a holiday ad campaign drew 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

Despite the current turbulence at Kering, however, expectations are high given the group’s strong performance supporting brands, analysts say.

The group’s brands are known for “capturing the Zeitgeist,” noted Solka, who said Gucci’s previous success was “the most impressive turnaround story in luxury history.”

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

Top management changes at Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior were announced this week, sparking talk that a design team shakeup could follow, including at 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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