Alessandro Michele steps down as creative director of Gucci

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

Alessandro Michele has stepped down as creative director of Gucci after almost eight years, a period in which he helped revive and transform the fortunes of the Italian label.

Announcing the decision on Wednesday, the luxury house’s parent company, Kering, said the 49-year-old designer had “played a major role in making the brand what it is today”.

The conglomerate’s chairman and chief executive, François-Henri Pinault, added in a statement: “The path that Gucci and Alessandro have traveled together in recent years is unique and will remain as an outstanding moment in the history of the House… His passion, his imagination , its ingenuity and its culture put Gucci center stage where it belongs.”

Having joined Gucci as a handbag designer and with no experience running a major label, Michele was surprisingly appointed to the top job in 2015. But as the brand’s relevance appeared to be in decline, he instigated a major overhaul of its identity. eschewing the overtly sexy aesthetic pioneered by predecessor Tom Ford in favor of a more whimsical aesthetic dubbed “geek chic.”

Models walk the runway at Milan Fashion Week in Michele’s last major show for Gucci. credit: Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for Gucci

Michele then ushered in an era of colorful, maximalist designs, transforming Renaissance art through fashion and staging elaborate runway shows in historic locations. He embraced the lavish heritage of a brand that celebrated its centenary last year, even naming one of its most famous designs – the Dionysus bag – after the Greek god of wine.

His genderfluid collections also increasingly blurred the distinction between the label’s menswear and womenswear lines, while insightful collaborations with Adidas and The North Face helped give the label mass-market appeal.

Named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2017, Michele has courted celebrities and appointed the likes of Harry Styles and Billie Eilish as brand ambassadors. At the star-studded Met Gala in May this year, he and actor Jared Leto appeared together on the red carpet in matching Gucci suits.
Alessandro Michele and Harry Styles arrive at the 2019 Met Gala.

Alessandro Michele and Harry Styles arrive at the 2019 Met Gala. credit: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Revenue soared during Michele’s time at the helm. Kering owns several other big brands, including Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta and Saint Laurent, but Gucci now generates more than all of them combined, reportedly making 9.7 billion euros ($10.1 billion) for the company last year.

But Michele’s tenure was not without controversy. In 2019, he sent models down a runway in Milan wearing white straitjackets, prompting an outcry from one of them, Aisha Tan Jones, who held up a note written on her palms that read: “Mental health is not fashion.” That same year, the label was forced to apologize for selling a sweater criticized for looking like blackface, while a $790 turban sparked accusations of cultural appropriation.
Alessandro Michele with Jared Leto at the Met Gala in May 2022.

Alessandro Michele with Jared Leto at the Met Gala in May 2022. credit: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

The label has also struggled to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic as nimbly as some of its rivals – particularly in China, which is now estimated to account for around a third of Gucci’s sales.

Michele, who joined Gucci in 2002, said in a statement on Wednesday: “There are times when paths diverge because of the different perspectives that each of us may have. Today marks the end of an extraordinary journey for me, lasting more than twenty years, within a company to which I tirelessly devoted all my love and creative passion.

“During this long period, Gucci was my home, my adopted family,” he said, adding: “With them I have wished, dreamed, imagined.”

Michele’s replacement has yet to be revealed, with Kering suggesting more changes could be on the way. The conglomerate’s press release said Gucci’s design office will lead the brand’s production until a “new creative organization” is announced.

Top image: Alessandro Michele appears at the end of the Gucci Fall/Winter 2016 show at Milan Fashion Week (Reuters/Stefano Relandini).

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