Browse all

Let us face it, fashion is all about money

The divorce between Gucci and Alessandro Michele is the ultimate proof of this

Let us face it, fashion is all about money  The divorce between Gucci and Alessandro Michele is the ultimate proof of this

In the week just ended, the fashion world was ideally split between two factions that emerged after the divorce between Alessandro Michele and Gucci, which could be roughly described as idealists and realists. On the one hand, the Roman designer's departure from the Kering brand shook the collective conscience by the way it came about - a rumor that became a reality within hours - and on the other hand, it opened the dialogue on what the priorities of a fashion brand should be between those who invoked the sanctity of art and those who, perhaps cynically and ruthlessly, reduced the whole conversation to the end product: money. Among the thousands of theories that have emerged to explain what happened, the most credible is that Kering chairman François-Henri Pinault wanted to "light a fire under the brand" to work faster and more effectively, highlighting the need for a change of gear at a brand that, according to more than one commentator, needed a turnaround in a time of fatigue.

Let us be clear about one thing: In the game for the creative director's throne, Michele's reign at Gucci has far exceeded the estimated time a designer stays at the helm of a brand. While the days when a creative director could hold his position for more than fifty years are long gone, Michele's nearly eight years - full of successes and thematic and stylistic revolutions - are an exception to the rule that five years is the maximum tenure of a designer at the creative helm of a brand. A figure that certainly justifies the difficulties Michele has had recently in changing the pace at Gucci, occurring in a world that now demands superhuman rhythms, but which at the same time rejects the rhetoric that seeks to portray the end of the relationship as an anomaly, an inadequacy on the part of a company that, to be specific, broke off the working relationship with one of its employees because it was no longer satisfied with his work.

Whether we like it or not, Gucci, like 99.9 percent of the brands seen on the catwalks of fashion weeks, has first and foremost the economic bottom line in its simplest and most banal form as its compass, so in the first moment of uncertainty, Pinault had few qualms about sending home the architect of the rebirth of the brand he now wants to revolutionize. The uncertainty that, according to some, means the Asian market, with China as the main hub of growth that Gucci has seen since the pandemic as the protagonist of slow growth, too much compared to that of its rivals. Already last year, BoF reported that «Gucci’s sales fell 22 percent to €7.4 billion. That decline is roughly in line with consultancy Bain & Company’s estimates for the global luxury industry overall, but far lower than that of other big and influential brands which rebounded more quickly from coronavirus lockdowns this spring» anticipating a trend later confirmed in the words of Vogue Business, which last April saw the cause of Gucci's slowdown precisely in its results in China, so much so that it prompted the brand to create an ad hoc function to reorganize its local operations by appointing former Tiffany & Co. Laurent Cathala as President of Greater China Fashion Business to separate the watch and jewelry business from the fashion business.

The uncertainty in the Chinese market due to the ongoing lockdowns and drastic decisions by Xi Jinping has been and continues to be such a big unknown for fashion groups that it has prompted Kering to defend its most important brand, especially when it comes to a market like China, which is expected to become the most important for the luxury world by 2025. Today, with the news of Michele's departure still in the papers, it is analyst Luca Solca who is echoing these words, talking of "brand fatigue" and calling for a new creative chapter for the Kering brand. Whether we like it or not, today there are those who comment on fashion from the front row of a show, as well as those who do so with calculator in hand, in front of one of those screens filled with variable indices and interest rates that often seem too complicated for us to consider.

When Solca speaks of a "new creative chapter", however, he is certainly not referring to the romantic side of fashion, he is not doing so with an eye on Gucci Twinsburg twins or the severed heads of Fall 2018 - the culmination of the Michele era - but with an eye on the end customer, the one who probably has no idea who the creative director is of the brand from which he is buying a T-shirt whose exaggerated value to him is only reflected by the logo in the foreground.

The casual customer, in short, the non-loyal customer, represents the ideal gap between catwalk and shop, the nemesis of those who see fashion as an art form, but paradoxically their best ally in the survival of the artistic vision we so love to cherish in our Instagram feeds. The end of the relationship between Gucci and Alessandro Michele - whose work remains and will remain indelible in the fashion world - is not only the end of one of the most productive moments for the fashion system but also a wake-up call to wake us from a slumber born after a dream that lasted almost eight years.