MILAN, Italy — This week in Milan, all eyes were on Gucci's new creative director, the formerly unknown Alessandro Michele, who had worked behind the scenes with the recently ousted former creative director Frida Giannini and who has now been thrust into the global fashion spotlight and tasked with revitalising the ailing Gucci brand.
For his first womenswear show, Michele transported us to a kind of train station, staged, as always, in the Gucci show venue in Piazza Oberdan, but transformed from the single runway format that had been part of the Gucci show formula for years, beginning under Tom Ford and then continuing with Giannini.
The changes did not end there. Indeed, while Giannini largely stuck to Ford's fashion formula throughout her tenure (think glamazons and macho men, oozing with in your face sexuality), Mr Michele opted for a completely different interpretation of sex.
The show notes introduced the new collection as a place "where relics of the past merge with signs of the future." In this way, the train station seemed to signify both a departure from the previous Gucci vibe and the arrival of an altogether new one, where men and women wear the same clothes, mixing masculine and feminine details to create a genderless kind of fashion.
By and large, the industry audience seemed to love it. As we shuffled backstage, one editor said to me: "I know what he's trying to do — it's still all about sex, but this girl doesn't want to have sex." Or, said slightly differently, this girl doesn't want to be obvious about it. Others enthused about the new spirit at Gucci and the feeling that a line had been drawn between Gucci's past and its future.
Indeed, the best thing about Mr Michele's debut was that it got people talking (and thinking) about Gucci in a way not seen since the days of Tom Ford, when Gucci was a global leader that influenced catwalks everywhere. And while Michele can't really take credit for starting the wave of genderless fashion on the international catwalks (that credit probably goes to Raf Simons or J.W. Anderson), he is the first contemporary designer to take this bold approach at a major fashion brand, selling the idea to the global mainstream.
But will he succeed? As the largest brand in the Kering portfolio, driving more than $4 billion in annual revenue, taking a niche trend and commercialising it at scale will be a significant challenge. Many of the comments about the Gucci show on social media were significantly less positive than those of fashion insiders, so it seems there is work to be done to translate this new brand image into commercial, sellable product. It will require excellent merchandising expertise and brand communication that stays true to Gucci's new genderless spirit, without alienating consumers who are experiencing it for the first time.
Speaking to Mr Michele backstage, amidst a throng of editors, well-wishers and Gucci executives, including Marco Bizzarri, who took the reins as Gucci's chief executive at the beginning of January, I asked him about how he thought the new Gucci would work from a business standpoint.
"If you talk a modern language, business means you have to create really beautiful things," he said. "I don't believe that our customers won't recognise beautiful things." Or said in the affirmative, when customers see beautiful things, they will desire them.
That sounds like a smart merchandising strategy to me. We will wait and see.
Enjoy our top stories for the week gone by:
Will Genderless Fashion Change Retail?
The runways are awash with gender-neutral statements. What does this mean for retail?
Condé Nast Closes Blog Network NowManifest
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Colin’s Column | Looking Back at London
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Graffiti Artists Fight Copying by Fashion Brands
A crew of graffiti artists is suing Roberto Cavalli for copyright infringement, unfair competition and false designation of origin in the latest in a string of cases involving alleged misappropriation of street art.
Can Endless Become the Next Billion-Dollar Jewellery Brand?
Jesper Nielsen’s new venture, Endless, is one of the fastest growing jewellery brands in history. Can he turn the budding $30 million business into the next billion-dollar brand?
The Creative Class | Armand Hadida, Artistic Director
BoF sits down with Armand Hadida — founder of L’Éclaireur and the artistic director of Tranoï, the Paris trade show that made its New York debut this past weekend — to discuss his sharp eye and the language of retail.
And don’t forget to check out BoF Weekly, a week in review published with Flipboard and updated every Saturday.
Imran Amed Founder and Editor-in-Chief