Breaking News: Facchinetti to replace Valentino

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Worried.

That’s what I would be if I was an investor in the Valentino business. Today, Alessandra Facchinetti was tapped to take over from Valentino when he steps down after the January 2008 couture shows.

Not only has Valentino Fashion Group lost the star designer behind the Valentino brand (apparently after coming close to signing a 3 year contract extension with him), but they have also chosen a replacement who has already failed once at taking over from another star designer, Tom Ford, after those halcyon Gucci days of the late 1990′s.

Even though their aesthetics are very different, Ford and Valentino have much in common, and this is what creates uncertainty in my mind about Permira’s choice. Valentino, like Ford, was known for his personality, creative vision and showmanship, partnering closely with his business partner Giancarlo Giammetti (like Tom Ford’s Domenico De Sole) to allow him to focus on his creativity. They both personified their brands in every way. Ms. Facchinetti does not appear to have these traits, given what we saw during her short tenure at Gucci.

Will she be able to schmooze the celebrities, royalty and fashion press with the flair of Valentino? Will she be able to keep the Valentino flame alive? It remains to be seen, but my hopes are not high.

That is not to say Ms. Facchinetti is not talented. She was after all the womenswear designer under Ford during his reign at Gucci. But, she seems to have needed his creative direction to create the magic. Similarly, Valentino’s job was not only to be the designer. It was also to be the ultimate brand ambassador. Facchinetti just seems to lack the panache and flair to drive a brand like Valentino.

The only logical explanation I can think of for this choice is that nobody else wanted the job — or more specifically, nobody wanted the job on Permira’s terms. Other leading candidates like Giambattista Valli and Zac Posen, who in my view would have been a much better fit, may have decided they’d rather focus on their own labels instead of splitting their time across two brands. More likely, the plum job may have come with strings attached — i.e. requiring that the young designers to give up their own labels. This is a dilemma that Ms. Facchinetti did not face as she does not have her own label.

Maybe the proof is in this pudding. If she couldn’t personify her own brand, why would she be able to personify someone else’s brand? We’ll be watching and waiting to see how it all unfolds.