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Can Lightning Strike Thrice at Gucci?

New designer Sabato De Sarno is thrown in at the deep end as the brand aims for a turnaround, writes Tim Blanks.
Sabato De Sarno made his Gucci debut.
Sabato De Sarno made his Gucci debut. (Indigital)

MILAN — Look at the pretty young things in their tank tops and short shorts in the streets of any Italian city and it’s easy to see where Sabato De Sarno is coming from with his first collection for Gucci. It’s much more difficult to see where he’s going, which is tricky because he’s supposed to be taking the $35 billion brand with him. And Friday’s show didn’t offer much help in illuminating a convincing way forward.

Lightning has already struck twice for Gucci with Tom Ford and Alessandro Michele, but in both those cases, the company was in such a state that it had nothing to lose by taking a flier on an unknown. Ford and Michele had the freedom to realise distinctly personal visions that immediately registered as new. In 2023, the stakes are significantly higher. There’s a lot to lose. And, although De Sarno was insistent that the collection was as deeply personal for him as Ford’s and Michele’s undoubtedly were for them, there was nothing new about it. As I said, walk down any Italian street and there is the look.

But maybe the shock of the new wasn’t the point with De Sarno’s debut. On Wednesday, he told Vogue Runway’s Nicole Phelps that he thought Gucci had lost touch with its Italian heritage and he wanted to bring it back. Which suggested that Gucci Ancora (Again), the message that has been promoted globally in the lead-up to the show, could be interpreted as Gucci Reborn. (The unfortunate implication of all this was that De Sarno was impugning his predecessor. Italians call it “spitting in the plate.”)

He’d intended to present his collection in the streets of Brera, one of Milan’s loveliest old districts, but the weather has been a devil this week, so he was forced to bring the show indoors, to the usual space at Gucci HQ. Instead of lining quaint cobblestoned streets, the audience sat in a vast, unatmospheric, industrial square. It goes without saying that De Sarno’s clothes would have been much better served by his original intent to show them live in the street, where you could imagine the slouchy jeans and blouson, the leather shorts and hoodie, the sporty parka, and the onesies — with a pink satin party dress under a duffel coat for later — on girls who love to listen to Romy and Lykke Li and the other power popstrels that Mark Ronson programmed into the soundtrack.

First looks often encapsulate designers’ thoughts for their new collections. Remembering how Ford and Michele instantly stated their cases with the first looks of their debut shows, I looked to De Sarno’s first outfit as an expression of Gucci Ancora. New face Ana was wearing the short shorts (GG buckle in full effect), white tank and platform loafers, swathed in a long, dark coat, beautifully tailored because coats are De Sarno’s obsession (he has a collection of 200). A classic Jackie bag swung from her shoulder (reconceptualised with a Gucci-striped strap instead of a handle) and her throat was wrapped in a Marina chain, like the one worn by an otherwise naked Daria Werbowy in De Sarno’s masterful teaser campaign on Instagram. That smart, seductive, adult perspective was sorely missed on Friday’s catwalk.

Although Ana actually did a pretty good job of summing up everything De Sarno had been saying in the days before the show, there was none of the frisson of rebirth that Gucci was looking for. Then again, I wonder if such a sensation is even possible at this point. Would content-saturated audiences recognise it? Or is this just going to be more ancora and ancora and ancora?

Further Reading

About the author
Tim Blanks
Tim Blanks

Tim Blanks is Editor-at-Large at The Business of Fashion. He is based in London and covers designers, fashion weeks and fashion’s creative class.

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