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The Logic Behind Valentino’s Alessandro Michele Appointment

The Rome-based couture house’s bet on Rome’s most bankable design talent could help it punch above its weight.
Alessandro Michele has been named Valentino's new creative director.
Alessandro Michele has been named Valentino's new creative director. (Valentino)

Valentino has named star ex-Gucci designer Alessandro Michele its new creative director, the brand announced Thursday. Michele will show his first collection for the Roman couture house during Paris Fashion Week in September.

“I feel the immense joy and the huge responsibility to join a maison de couture that has the word ‘beauty’ carved on a collective story, made of distinctive elegance, refinement and extreme grace,” Michele said in a statement.

The announcement answers the question of where Michele, one of the industry’s biggest names, would end up after exiting Gucci in late 2022.

In the end, Michele won’t be headed to luxury’s biggest group LVMH, as many had speculated, but rather to Mayhoola for Investments, the fashion group backed by the Qatari royal family that owns Balmain and Pal Zileri, as well as Valentino.

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Last week, designer Pierpaolo Piccioli exited Valentino after 25 years at the house, including 8 years as its sole creative director. The brand will not show menswear or haute couture in June.

Rome’s Most Bankable Design Talent

Michele spent years working behind-the-scenes in Gucci’s design studio before being selected for the top job in 2015. Alongside then-CEO Marco Bizzarri, the designer ushered in an era of explosive growth during which sales roughly tripled before stagnating during the pandemic.

Michele became known for his decadent, more-is-more aesthetic: items from hoodies to handbags were layered with brand signifiers, as well as flowers, totem animals or astrological motifs. On the runway and red carpets, the vibe was often Italy meets Palm Springs, evoking the lives of Old Hollywood stars with campy ruffles as well as retro eyeglass chains and tracksuits.

In recent years, interest in Michele’s eye-catching maximalist aesthetic may have waned, but it was the creative force that pushed Gucci’s sales to around €10 billion per year. That’s an outcome Valentino would surely dream of: the brand reported operating profits of €350 million on a record €1.4 billion in revenue in 2022, before being hit by a slowdown in the luxury market during 2023, according to sources (the group still hasn’t announced last year’s results).

On-boarding Michele should be smooth: the designer is known to be deeply attached to his native Rome, where Valentino was founded in 1960 and still maintains its creative studio (although most head-office functions are based in Milan), and Michele’s team is said to have relocated in recent months. At Valentino, he’ll also work alongside CEO Jacopo Venturini, the chief merchandiser who, along with Michele and Bizzarri, formed the leadership tripod behind Gucci’s success.

At Valentino, Venturini has sought to diversify the commercial offer (which still depends heavily on a few commercial signatures like metal studs and “Vlogo” hardware) as well as to draw clearer links between its couture image — suffused with poetry and high romance — and the on-the-ground reality of what the business actually sells.

A shake-up from Michele could speed up progress on that effort: he is a deft merchandiser who knows how to dig through the archives to find forgotten or under-used signatures, and to find a way to make them fresh and relevant today.

“The reinterpretation of the maison’s couture codes and the heritage created by Mr. Valentino Garavani, combined with Alessandro’s extraordinary vision, will bring us moments of great emotion and will translate into irresistibly desirable objects,” Venturini said.

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Total Work of Fashion

The designer also knows how to harness fashion buzz to help a brand punch above its weight. His Gucci era came with a guns-blazing, holistic approach to fashion branding: the company rapidly extended his aesthetic from runways to entry-level products, from campaigns to social media posts and store decor. Michele rivalled creators like Celine creative director Hedi Slimane or the late titan Karl Lagerfeld in his ability to impose his style on a brand, transforming a sprawling global fashion company into a Wagnerian gesamtkunstwerk or “total work of art.”

Still, the kitschy, off-kilter aesthetic Michele was known for at Gucci will largely be foreign to Valentino. Although the brand won broad industry acclaim for predecessor Piccioli’s couture outings featuring dramatic headdresses, outsized ruffles and challenging jewel-tone hues, its codes (and its clients) still lean toward more straightforward notions of feminine beauty. And Valentino’s high-end merchandising, with many items priced in line with French couture giant Dior, and critical couture operation of its own are at odds with some of Michele’s tactics at Gucci, such as driving buzz and sales through collaborations with the likes of Adidas and Disney.

Exit Strategy

That such a bankable talent wasn’t nabbed by a bigger brand or group may come as a surprise. But for deep-pocketed Mayhoola, reinvigorating growth is worth the cost of bringing on a star creative talent as it prepares to exit Valentino: Gucci-owner Kering invested in the brand last year, taking a 30 percent stake in Valentino with the option to acquire its remaining shares within 5 years.

Since acquiring Valentino in 2012, “We have been able to grow it in reputation and size over five folds, while gaining the loyalty and appreciation of our clients,” Mayhoola chairman Rachid Mohamed Rachid said. “Michele is an exceptional talent and his appointment underlines our great ambitions.”

“With his creativity, culture and versatile talent, [Michele] will be able to interpret masterfully the unique heritage of this magnificent house and make it flourish,” added Kering chairman François-Henri Pinault.

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