It’s a strange start to the Autumn/Winter 2023 season. Gucci is kicking off Milan Fashion Week with its first standalone men’s show in three years, only now it will also serve as the brand’s first outing without Alessandro Michele, who stepped down as creative director in November.
The brand hasn’t said much about its plans for the show, or for finding a replacement for Michele. That process can stretch on – Louis Vuitton is going on 14 months without a creative director for menswear following the death of Virgil Abloh in November 2021. But Gucci’s transition is almost certain to be quicker – owner Kering is eager to deliver a creative and commercial revamp of its biggest brand, which has grown slower and more unevenly than rivals for years.
Gucci is a suitable opener to a year of uncertainty for luxury brands. Louis Vuitton, Dior, Balenciaga and other big labels glided through the pandemic: their customers had plenty of money to spend while stuck at home, and then again to build new wardrobes once they were ready to go out again. But the outlook is cloudy, as an economic downturn could be brutal for middle-class consumers who still make up a big portion of luxury sales. Shifting appetites could see social media-ready gimmicks and logo-heavy merchandise that helped drive sales in recent years fall flat.
One way this could all show up on the runway is if brands gear their shows more toward highlighting stuff people will actually buy, versus attention-grabbing stunts. A Michele-less Gucci would be a prime candidate for this sort of pivot, but other brands could shift priorities too as they brace for tough times. The runway isn’t usually the place for sensible fashion, but brands that bridge the gap between fantasy and retail reality, like Miu Miu with its ballet flats and micro-mini skirt, will be rewarded.
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