Welcome to Now You Know, Eric Wilson’s column that will help you become a fashion know-it-all in one easy read. Each week, he’ll take a look at an endearing fashion influence and why it’s relevant right now. Enjoy!
After a few weeks of heated speculation, Gucci named Alessandro Michele, an insider and the head accessories designer under former designer Frida Giannini, as its next creative director on Wednesday. The news is intriguing not only because of the circumstances of Giannini’s departure, which turned out to be more abrupt than the season-long farewell that was expected, but also because fashion insiders had been speculating on a race to succeed her between established players like Valentino’s Maria Grazia Chiuri, Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane, and Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci.
But elevating Michele to the top spot at one of Italian fashion’s most storied labels, and one that accounts for a third of the global luxury conglomerate Kering’s annual sales, speaks to the changing expectations for luxury house designers, and also the nature of their work. It is worth noting, as financial analysts have pointed out, that strong accessories are extremely important to the Gucci bottom line, much more so than a flashy ready-to-wear collection, no matter how critically acclaimed. And Michele would be but one recent example of accessories designers who have gone on to run their own show—like Chiuri, with her design partner, Pierpaolo Piccioli, at Valentino; or rising star Marco de Vincenzo, who designed bags for Fendi before starting his own label; or Johnny Coca, the former Céline accessories designer who will soon take over Mulberry.
Also important, Michele appears to have come out roaring with a strong audition for the creative director role at Gucci’s men’s wear runway show in Milan this week (pictured, above). Michele reportedly conceived an entirely new collection and executed it within just a few days, sending out men, and notably a few women, in the sort of retro romantic fashion—rusty colored suits, an admiral’s coat, some poet’s caps, and droopy chiffon bows—that have dominated women’s wear trends more recently than men’s. Michele’s profile had previously been low, yet curiosity now ran so high, that The New York Times described his appearance as he took his bow in great detail, as “a grizzly looking man in an Aran sweater, with shoulder-length dark hair and a full beard.”
Michele’s first official collection in his new role will be the women’s ready-to-wear show for fall 2015 on Feb. 25. Michele, who is 42, joined Gucci in 2002, and last year he took on the additional role of creative director of Richard Ginori, a fine porcelain brand Gucci had bought in 2013.
Marco Bizzarri, the chief executive of Gucci, said in a statement, that Michele was chosen “based on the contemporary vision he has articulated for the brand that he will now bring to life.”
One thing that is clear is that in an increasingly complicated global market, when the strength of currencies are becoming as critical to success as the health of the economy, luxury labels can’t afford to make mistakes. This also helps explain why Gucci might not have been in a rush, or even reluctant, to hire an outside power player at this moment, when there’s talent and ambition already to be found inside the house.