MILAN, Italy — Of all the fall-winter fashion collections on show in Milan over the next four days, the label that will attract the most attention will probably be Gucci, and not because of the clothes.
As models parade the luxury label’s latest men’s designs, most of those watching will be more interested in the company’s choice to replace Creative Director Frida Giannini. She left the 94-year-old brand last week after more than a year of little-to- no growth. Who succeeds her may be the most important decision Gucci’s new Chief Executive Officer Marco Bizzarri has to make.
“He’s got to get the appointment right,” said Isabelle Harvie-Watt, who heads advertising company Havas SA’s global luxury practice LuxHub in Milan. “They have to go back to the product to make Gucci the cool brand that people want again.”
Gucci-owner Kering SA announced the end of Giannini’s nine- year stint as creative director in December and hastened her planned departure after 52-year-old Bizzarri started as CEO. She failed to establish a consistent, identifiable aesthetic for the fashion house, unlike her predecessor Tom Ford, who made Gucci sexy, according to fashion researcher WGSN. Her designs ranged from horse-bit print silk blouses that were deemed too safe by critics, to garish multi-furred jackets.
“Giannini was designing by being inspired rather than inspiring,” said Lorna Hall, head of market intelligence at WGSN in London. “There’s been a lack of dynamism about the brand, who it is and what it stands for.”
Identity was something Bizzarri never had to search for at Bottega Veneta. The label, designed by Tomas Maier since 2001, is synonymous with understated luxury and its signature woven leather goods. Bizzarri more than doubled revenue in five years as CEO by opening more stores and investing in existing ones.
With growth slowing across the industry, those are measures he can’t solely rely on at Gucci, making the designer choice all the more important. Gucci, whose $4 billion revenue is more than three times Bottega’s, “has lost its sex appeal,” said WGSN’s Hall. The Gucci customer “has got lost.”
Giannini’s departure within two weeks of Bizzarri joining Gucci may signal that the label already has a replacement lined up, said Giovanna Brambilla, a partner at Value Search Srl.
Names being mentioned in fashion circles include Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, who dressed singer Rihanna in black hot pants and thigh-high boots for her “Diamonds” world tour, and former Tisci acolyte Joseph Altuzarra, in whose fashion label Kering has a stake. Giannini’s longtime associate and accessories designer Alessandro Michele has also been linked.
An established star would create a buzz around the brand, but could be difficult to manage, while promoting from within could have the opposite effects, according to Jane Kellock, founder of consultant Unique Style Platform in London.
“There is less likelihood that an internal promotion will stir things up and encourage the team to look at the brand with a fresh perspective,” Kellock said.
A Gucci spokesman declined to comment on where the company is in its search for a successor. Gucci’s design team will present Giannini’s final menswear collection in Milan on Monday and an announcement of a new creative director “will be made in due course,” it said. A spokesman for LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, which owns Givenchy, declined to comment.
Immediate steps the new CEO can take to improve results include upgrading stores in some parts of Asia and improving service, said Chris Walker, an analyst at Nomura International Plc in London. Bizzarri also needs to cut manufacturing costs for lower-priced goods, said Fabio Fazzari, an analyst at Equity SIM SpA in Milan.
After appointing a new creative director, the key task of revitalizing Gucci’s offer will take at least a year and even then revenue growth will at best be low to mid-single digit, according to Fazzari.
“Rebuilding your image is not something that can happen in a few months, especially in this period,” he said.
By Andrew Roberts; editors: Celeste Perri, Paul Jarvis.