When Alessandro Michele took over as Gucci’s head designer in 2015, he seemed to work on the principle that more is more. His clothes came overloaded with pattern, color, appliques, logos, and all manner of detailing, and that was before he layered on accessories. For years, the market rewarded him. Sales at Gucci—the biggest brand in parent company Kering’s portfolio—took off like a rocket.
Lately, though, a subtle shift has taken hold at Gucci. In the collection Michele showed in September, the emphasis was on cleaner lines and concentrated colors. Patterns were mostly absent. Black was suddenly present. The change has continued in subsequent showings and will soon filter into stores.
Michele told Vogue he had gotten bored and wanted to try something, a creative instinct with fortuitous timing. Gucci’s rate of growth has been falling back to earth, and the market’s preference for maximalism is turning back toward minimalism. The change is helping Gucci position itself for more growth still to come.
Kering CEO François-Henri Pinault confirmed as much on a call with investors and analysts yesterday to discuss the company’s performance over the past year. He and Marco Bizzarri, CEO of the Gucci brand, discussed the changes with Michele last June, he said, to make sure he felt free to take his designs in new directions. “They are less baroque, more minimal than it used to be,” Pinault said. He added that they’ve seen a positive response from the press, and also in the showrooms where retailers place their orders. “As we’ve proven, the brand is really capable of outperforming the market on an ongoing vision,” he said. “So this has been very, very nice and a very good move by Alessandro and the merchandising team at Gucci.”
Kering is also seeing a revival at Bottega Veneta, its third-largest brand by sales. It used to be number two, but the label hit a rut some years back as Saint Laurent was ascending. In need of a refresh, it got a new creative director in 2018: Daniel Lee, who has reenergized the line with a stronger, harder look. Bottega Veneta has since become a poster child for a new wave of minimalism, and its Pouch bag is a hit among fashion followers. The brand returned to growth this year, with a significant uptick in the second half as more of Lee’s products hit store shelves, Pinault said.
Now Kering is seeing near-equal levels of growth across its three main brands. In the recent quarter (pdf), Gucci’s sales grew 12.9%, Saint Laurent’s rose 16.6%, and Bottega Veneta’s were up 12.2%. Even at its slower growth rate, Gucci is outpacing the industry, and given it did €9.6 billion ($10.4 billion) in sales in 2019—compared to Saint Laurent’s €2 billion and Bottega Veneta’s €1.2 billion—keeps adding to Kering’s coffers.
Pinault said he’s confident that growth will continue, even with a potential hit from the outbreak of Coronavirus in China. Like other luxury companies, Kering has closed stores and is seeing less traffic.
But the company is flexible, Pinault said, and it fully expects Gucci to keep on as one of luxury’s leading stars.