Gucci’s design director, Frida Giannini, left weeks before the brand’s menswear autumn/winter 2015 collection took to the runway in Milan on Monday. Under such challenging circumstances, the design team would have been forgiven for sending out a collection centred on classics. Instead they confounded expectations and were rewarded with a standing ovation from the front row.
The first outfit signalled change was afoot: a long-haired, gangly young model in a red blouse, sandals and loose high-waisted trousers was hardly the jetset grown-up Giannini usually had as muse for her men’s collections. The louche, androgynous and slightly 70s mood continued with boys in pussy-bow blouses, lace tunics and chiffon, some of whom walked the Gucci runway in backless mink-lined loafers. The few female models in attendance wore similar outfits, suggesting a wardrobe that could be worn by both sexes.
While this move is not new – labels from Prada to JW Anderson have dabbled in such gender blurring recently – it felt edgy on the Gucci catwalk. The show notes referred to “contemporary non-conformists”, self-expression and idiosyncrasies of dress – hardly the ideas usually in the frame here. By contrast, Gucci’s previous spring collection played it safe with a nautical theme designed to appeal to the yacht-owning consumer the luxury market courts.
Speculation has been growing over who will replace Giannini – and rekindle the excitement Gucci had under Tom Ford in the 90s, when the brand was known for its decadent 70s sex appeal. Possible contendors including Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, and New York designer Joseph Altuzarra have been mooted by the media – along with the wild card idea that Ford might rejoin the brand. Another strong candidate is Alessandro Michele, Giannini’s deputy since 2011, who was involved in designing this collection. This could prove a good shout: Gucci has previously preferred insiders – Giannini was one herself, having worked under Ford before he left in 2004. The announcement of her successor is expected imminently, though not in time for the autumn/winter womenswear show at the end of February.
Giannini’s departure is widely believed to be connected to declining sales. In 2013, Gucci experienced the slowest growth in three years – with like-for-like revenues up only 0.2% from the previous year in the final quarter. By contrast, sales at Saint Laurent, also part of the Kering stable, rose 28%, boosted by a rebooted rockn’roll aesthetic.
While red lace for men, as seen at Gucci on Monday, is hardly the most commercial of ideas, the introduction of a new design voice is a way to make this luxury Italian brand relevant, cool and desirable once again. If this collection was a pleasant surprise, the spring/summer 2016 show scheduled for later this year – by which time the new designer should be in place – will be eagerly anticipated.