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A year since creative director Alessandro Michele unveiled his first womenswear collection for the Kering-owned house and the label has gone from being marginal and stagnant to popular and profitable. Results reported on February 19 announced an increase of 0.4 per cent in annual revenues at Gucci, with a 5 per cent increase in Q4 (when Michele’s first collection landed in store). It’s perhaps not as blistering a success as Kering has seen at some of its holdings (Saint Laurent was up another 26 per cent, which surely makes the ongoing murmurs about Hedi Slimane’s departure a cause for great concern for Kering chief executive François-Henri Pinault) but Michele’s success in putting back the sparkle in Kering’s €1.2bn jewel cannot be understated.
Meanwhile, the brand is everywhere: and I don’t just mean those interlocking Gs. The pervasiveness of Michele’s Gucci look has become so familiar an influence at the AW16 shows it’s rare to spot the designer who hasn’t picked up a little of what he’s having: big brass buckled belts that revisit the house logo (check); plays on the gauntlet and fingers stacked with rings (check); decorative botanical embroideries and trompe l’oeil sequinned collars (check); pretty bib-fronted, buttoned-up blouses (check, check, check).
Michele’s chief executive Marco Bizzarri has meanwhile been creating small ripples in the retail model. While other brands are embracing a ready-to-buy strategy, Gucci has simply decided to not discount at the other end of the season. Not putting your stock on sale seems a more sensible way of extending the life of your collections (especially at a house which has thus far seen only minor modulations in its annual offering) and also shows a refreshing confidence in the longevity of its commodity.
Pinault made great play earlier this week of celebrating the allure of anticipation each season, and many are anxious to see where Michele might go after four collections (including pre-col) that have strayed little from the Gucci woman he first unveiled this time last year.
For AW16 Michele had conjured the spirits, or at least a cute little graffiti print — part of a collaboration with GucciGhost, the Brooklyn-based skateboarder-turned-artist Trevor Andrew who first came up with his artistic nom de plume as a Gucci-obsessed teenager cutting up bedsheets for a Halloween costume. The prints were used across clothes, a graphic refashioning of the double-G logo was hand-painted on leather jackets, and accessories were spattered with words: “real” read one shopping bag in drippy yellow paint, a cheeky snub to all those copyists out there.
But the street graffiti was only a scribble. Michele pulled references everywhere, from the veiled pillbox hats, power-shouldered leathers and faux 1940s suiting of the New Romantics, to the classical lines, capes and cardinal robing of the Renaissance. A model in banded white sports socks and tweeds wandered past the screened catwalk, followed by another in sherbet tulles, and another in a mint green 1960s suit and hat, like Jackie O on acid.
The thinking was “rhizomatic”, designed to “generate a movement in different directions”. It was darker than previous outings, and a bit more gnarly. It was full of fresh ideas. I liked Michele’s new urban edge, but it was still very measured and often very pretty. Nothing to spook the share price then.