Maybe it is the emerging importance of Russian customers that convinced Frida Giannini she should look to Russian rockers to inspire her latest menswear collection for Gucci. Regardless of the source of her inspiration, it would be fair to say that the collection went down with an audible thud. Suzy Menkes of the IHT, Horacio Silva of The Moment, and Tim Blanks of Style.com seemed to be grasping for positive things to say about it.
Guy Trebay of the New York Times went even further:
There are days in the life of a fashion observer when having a nail driven into one’s skull seems preferable to sitting through another evocation of the so-called rock ’n’ roll style….it seems willfully dated when designers like Frida Giannini at Gucci haul out the paisley scarves, the velvets, the eyeliner, the grommet boots and wraparound Gypsy belts.
Maybe the real rock star at Gucci Group is not Ms Giannini, the designer, but Mr Robert Polet, the all-star CEO who was recently named European Businessman of the Year by Fortune Magazine.
Since he became CEO of Gucci Group just over three years ago, Polet has spun an unfocused group of 10 brands, 8 of which were unprofitable, into a powerful portfolio of brands where only one brand, Yves Saint-Laurent, is still in the red.
The innovation and performance of these brands has been spectacular. Bottega Veneta is the undisputed star of the luxury industry (and our hands-down favourite global luxury brand at the moment), Alexander McQueen is experimenting with collaborative Internet content for their ad campaigns, Boucheron has one of the most beautiful ecommerce sites around, and Balenciaga continues to be one of the driving creative forces in the industry, with designer Nicolas Ghesquiere at the helm.
The secret sauce for all of this success has been Polet’s concept of "Freedom within a Framework" which empowers designers and managers to make decisions and take risks within the boundaries of a framework jointly defined by Polet and his CEO reports. Patrizio di Marco of Bottega Veneta who turned a $10m loss into an $80m operating profit in two years, told Fortune Magazine, "I don’t need someone who keeps telling me what to do," approving of Polet’s hand-off style.
As for the Gucci brand, it seems to be mired in a creative rut. Walk into a Gucci store today and the amount of logo product is overwhelming. The cultural relevance that Tom Ford injected into the brand in the 1990′s has been completely lost as Giannini searches for a new Gucci vision. However, this creative struggle has not yet hit Gucci’s financials, where sales spiked in both 2005 and 2006m with similar expectations for 2007. We wonder how long this can last and are eager to see Gucci’s performance in 2008, which will be a much more challenging period for the luxury industry.
Photos courtesy of Style.com
© 2007 Copyright Imran Amed – The Business of Fashion