The recent news of the departure of Frida Giannini and her husband, CEO, Patrizio di Marco from Gucci poses the question: who will replace them? Or, more importantly, her? Now I, for one, don’t really care about who the new CEO is because that will not change anything for me: the CEO is very much behind the scenes with their impact on the designs practically non-existent. I do care about who will become the new creative director, however, even if the internet seems rather unfussed: google Gucci and the news of the departure of their head designer doesn’t even come up on the first page.
I am a Frida Giannini fan so when I found out that she was leaving I was saddened. However, I often feel like I stand alone in liking her as she is often heavily criticised online for reasons I am unsure of. I feel that in the past few seasons Gucci’s collections had really improved and were clothes that I would want to spend money on, if I had it… For the past few seasons Gucci’s campaigns have been some of my favourites, their clothes often the most copied and their business seemed to be reaching new heights with the introduction of the beauty line, something that Giannini was involved with. She doesn’t officially depart until after the Fall 2015 collection which will, like the previous few collections, likely be met with praise from the press. If you look at reviews from style.com, vogue.co.uk and a few other publications the past few seasons have been viewed as largely positive. She has left citing personal reasons and I hope that she returns to fashion at some point in the future.
A lot of the criticism for Frida stemmed from the fact that she was not Tom Ford. A rather preposterous reason to dislike somebody, or their work more so, but this is fashion and that is how it works. She took over from Tom Ford in 2004 whose departure a hell of a lot of people are still not over. Frida’s Gucci woman was completely different from Mr Ford’s who is known for his sexed up designs and that is one thing that she always had against her. Although fashion is rooted in continual change, an often unhealthy nostalgia for the past can be prominent. Another hurdle that Frida had to overcome was the world economic crisis that began in the late 2000s. If the entire world, pretty much, is in recession people naturally will have less money and the first thing that will go is luxuries. For that reason, many brands’ sales took a hit – Gucci included. Sales at Gucci have been stagnant for years. Where some brands have seen meteoric rises (like Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent whose retail increase has been reported at 40% after his rebrand of YSL and 28% in the past year), Gucci has remained steady and in an industry where the only way is up, staying still is very much a negative. Some of the failure can be put down to Gucci’s heavily branded image, something that was very popular in the early 2000s but has diminished now. Luxury, nowadays, is understated. The joy doesn’t come in having a brand name or logo splashed all over a bag but by knowing that your bag is made of the finest leather by the most skilled workers: Gucci didn’t catch up with that.
Still, it is not a bad brand: for that reason alone it should be easy to get a new designer. However, it is choosing the new designer that will be the hardest part. Now obviously all of us on the internet are not involved with the inner workings of Gucci, we do not know what is going on. The brand released a statement saying that the new creative director has not yet been named and the uncertainty has just led to meaningless speculation, something that I am going to join in with. Now the name that is most commonly thrown around is Hedi Slimane, the previously mentioned creative director at Saint Laurent. In his short time back at Saint Laurent (he joined up again in 2012 after 4 years in the menswear division between 1996 and 2000 where he popularised the skinny suit) he has done a lot – perhaps an understatement? He has re-branded from Yves Saint Laurent to Saint Laurent Paris, a move that sparked much controversy and those god-awful “Ain’t Laurent Without Yves” t-shirts that caused him to pull the brand from Collette in Paris. However, even if you don’t like his change of name it is undeniable that is has had brilliant results for the brand business-wise. Sales have grown massively and continue to do so season upon season, he has grown a near cult-like following of people who will buy whatever he produces. It seems like a great idea for Gucci to hire him then, no? I mean, I know he is the most likely candidate for the job but in a way, I hope that he doesn’t get it: no ill feelings Hedi. My reason is not that I dislike him (because I do like him) but because I think he is doing great at Saint Laurent and think it would be a shame to see him go so quickly. I think it would be unnecessary for him to leave so quickly and at a brand that he has quickly made his own. Furthermore, if he left Saint Laurent somebody would have to replace him there and I cannot think of anybody better for the job than him, he has made himself almost irreplaceable.
So if Hedi is not the man for the job, then who is? So many names have been thrown around that it is difficult to make sense of it all. If a creative director is poached from another brand then they need to be replaced, leading to a round of fashion musical chairs, or as Suzy Menkes put it, Candy Crush. Of course, it could be an internal hire. Gucci will have a strong design team in-house already so perhaps a promotion could be on the horizon? That seems unlikely however. I feel that they will be looking for an already established name to make a splash. Riccardo Tisci’s name has come up in conversation but that has quickly been shut down by the media citing his contract with LVMH as the main reason. (I like him there so I hope he stays.) Christopher Kane has been mentioned, mainly because he worked for Versus Versace for a while and Kering, Gucci’s owner, has a majority stake in his own brand.
My favourite name that has come up is Joseph Altuzarra, designer of the brand of the same last name. I am aware that these are all just rumours but I think he would be perfect for the brand, despite the fact that he is already creative director of his own brand. Now I don’t exactly love it when designers design for multiple brands at once (think Alexander Wang at his mainline, Balenciaga, T diffusion line and his new denim line) but sometimes it works. For example, Alexander Wang has produced stellar collections for all of his own lines and the Balenciaga brand since his appointment but you can’t help but wonder if it is too much for one person to do. You wonder how involved they really are, questioning if it is just their name on the line and their face at the end of the runway show or if they are actually hands-on at all of their jobs. Or think of Karl Lagerfeld who has simultaneously designed for Chanel and Fendi, amongst other projects for decades now. It often works, often doesn’t. Now I don’t want Altuzarra to overwork himself or stretch himself too thin, especially since his brand is a relatively new one, but I do think that Gucci would be a great brand for him to grow at. For one, he does that whole classy-sex-appeal thing very well, something that is key to Gucci’s brand. Secondly, he is a good designer and that has been noted by Kering who bought a stake in his company already. Altuzarra won the CFDA’s Womenswear Designer of the Year award this year and has received much critical acclaim, making Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in the past. Whatever happens, he has good investment in his brand, that much-needed talent and the means to grow – whether that is within Gucci or his own brand only time will tell.
We don’t find out who is going to be the new creative director until Gucci decides to reveal it to us so everything until then is pure speculation: enjoyable but slightly worthless. Will they do what is predicted and hire Hedi Slimane, a man who has transformed the Saint Laurent brand and could potentially do the same for Gucci? Or will they take a risk and hire a newer but known designer such as Joseph Altuzarra? Or will they shock us all and do an internal hire or even more surprising, hire an unknown, fresh-out-of-school designer? Only time will tell and until then it is all uncertain. What we do know for sure is that Frida Giannini is designing one last collection, Fall 2015, and we should enjoy it whilst we can. Until then, may the excitement of the unknown fuel the fashion fire.