If Queen Elizabeth II’s death has dominated the conversation at London Fashion Week, the narrative taking shape ahead of Milan is harder to pin down. Many Italian fashion companies are flying high on the back of a swift rebound in luxury sales following coronavirus, but even the country’s strongest and most well-regarded players still have something to prove.
Italy’s fashion industry is predicting record sales in 2022, but Gucci, by far the country’s biggest luxury brand, has yet to move past a long stretch of middling growth. Sales are back up to pre-pandemic levels, but still increasing more slowly than other brands of a similar scale.
Earlier this year, the label’s leadership promised renewal, both creatively and commercially. A commercial revival is underway, with store openings, moves to build up beauty and other emerging categories, and a transition to higher-priced products, including leather bags that feature exotic skins and more luxe detailing. The brand has continued to crack down on exposure to discount-prone channels like online wholesalers.
Friday’s show could offer some insight into the creative side of the equation. Alessandro Michele’s maximalist vision for Gucci still works, supporting a business with over $10 billion in annual sales. But it’s been nearly eight years since he joined the brand, and his vision is not as fresh as it once was.
Earlier this year, Gucci appointed a longtime Michele deputy to oversee its commercial collections in the newly created role of design studio director (as well as making a key new hire to oversee merchandising and brand elevation, and reshuffling its marketing and communications team) but Michele remains Gucci’s sole creative director, responsible for setting the label’s aesthetic. This week, we may see how he plans to evolve that aesthetic to justify higher prices and reignite growth in line with the rapid expansion of Gucci’s mega-brand rivals. Everyone from Kering executives in Paris to luxury mall landlords in Shanghai will be watching.
Growth isn’t a problem at Prada — the brand reported a 22 percent increase in sales in the first half of the year. The question is whether the savvy merchandising strategy that got it to this point will continue to drive results. “Raf is obsessed with the triangle,” Miuccia Prada told the Financial Times last year regarding designer Raf Simons’ first collections as co-creative director. That’s been borne out by a proliferation of Prada’s inverted triangle logos across its product offering.
Simons’ vision extends beyond geometry, of course: it’s also his sleeker, more minimal approach with fewer zany patterns that’s helped to revive sales, particularly for menswear. But the market’s thirst for newness presents its own challenges, and raises the stakes for Prada’s next show.
Milan will also feature quite a few designer debuts at storied labels in need of revitalisation. Bally, Etro, Ferragamo and Missoni. In each case, new creative directors were brought in to help re-energise labels with international brand recognition but slow-growing businesses.
The similarities mostly end there; Rhuigi Villaseñor comes from the world of California streetwear, a background Bally hopes will revive its appeal with US consumers (and create an exit opportunity for owner JAB). Marco de Vincenzo joins Etro after two decades creating leather goods at Fendi, and is expected to bring long-awaited change to the brand, which sold to LVMH-backed private equity firm L Catterton last year. Missoni, too, is transitioning its design away from family control, giving designer Filippo Grazioli his first shot as creative director after years working behind-the-scenes at Margiela, Hermès, Givenchy and Burberry.
Ferragamo is the biggest of the four, with a global network of stores and the strongest brand awareness, which it’s hoping a new CEO (Marco Gobbetti) and young designer (Manchester-born Maximilian Davis) can leverage.
After roughly a decade of giant global brands dominating the luxury category, there may be an opportunity for smaller names to grab consumers’ attention, especially when they can draw on long histories of Italian design and craftsmanship.
They’ll also need investment to compete with the likes of Gucci and Prada, but a unique, compelling creative vision could help close the gap.
London Day 4 highlights: Nensi Dojaka, Simone Rocha, Erdem, Christopher Kane
MAGIC New York trade show runs through Sept. 20
Sephora’s annual beauty event, Sephoria, returns as a virtual experience
Funeral for Queen Elizabeth II
London Day 5 highlights: Chet Lo, Richard Quinn
Stitch Fix reports quarterly results
Milan Fashion Week kicks off, running through Sept. 26
Milan Day 2 highlights: Brunello Cucinelli, Diesel, Fendi, Roberto Cavalli
The US Federal Reserve is expected to hike interest rates by 75 basis points to 3.25 percent, the highest since 2008
Milan Day 3 highlights: Prada, Emporio Armani, Moschino, Boss, Max Mara
Milan Day 4 highlights: Tod’s, Missoni, Loro Piana, Etro, Gucci, Versace
Milan Day 5 highlights: Jil Sander, Salvatore Ferragamo, Bally, Bottega Veneta, Moncler
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