Sabato De Sarno, newly appointed by Kering to reinvigorate its prized Gucci brand, needs to spark heat with a new direction, analysts say—a delicate task, given the emphasis executives have also put on the label's timeless appeal.
De Sarno, a senior fashion designer from Valentino, is tasked as creative director with reviving the fortunes of the brand that accounted for two-thirds of Kering's profits in 2021.
An emphasis on classics was a priority outlined by executives at the company's investor presentation last year, and Gucci has recently revived its bamboo-handle model handbag from 1947, as well as its over-the-shoulder Jackie bag from 1961.
But analysts say De Sarno will also have to generate buzz with hot new styles—a strategy that has traditionally served the brand well, compared to the path taken by some rivals that focus more strongly on signature classics, especially handbags.
"The future of Gucci is not to become another (Louis) Vuitton, Chanel or Hermes, but to nurture its fashion content to drive customers back to the brand," said Antoine Belge, analyst with Exane BNP Paribas.
Kering declined to comment on its strategy for the brand.
The group had been under pressure to quickly appoint someone to the top creative job at Gucci following the abrupt departure in November of Alessandro Michele.
The flamboyant designer, who was a favourite of Harry Styles and Lady Gaga, had overseen a period of soaring growth in 2015-19, with eccentric, gender-fluid designs.
However, in recent quarters, Gucci has lagged rivals including Hermes and LVMH's top brand Louis Vuitton, with its performance in the key Chinese market becoming a source of concern for investors amid COVID-19 lockdowns.
For Bernstein analyst Luca Solca, Gucci needs to make a strong statement to return to the center stage. "Gucci has to be over the top in order to thrive," said Solca.
Analysts welcomed Kering's choice of a seasoned but relatively unknown designer, noting that previous creative director Michele did not have a public profile when he was appointed in 2002.
"Another bold choice that may work well again," said Jefferies analyst Flavio Cereda, though he cautioned that the director's task was not "straightforward this time".
Among challenges cited by Cereda is potential turmoil as Gucci brings on an outsider while the previous designer's teams are still in place, and the time it will take for the market to understand a new direction from the label.
De Sarno will show his first Gucci collection in September in Milan. His experience at Valentino suggests a "less eccentric aesthetic" than Gucci's previous designer, noted Carole Madjo of Barclays.
The designer rose through Valentino's ranks after his arrival in 2009 to become fashion director overseeing both the men's and women's collections, working closely with chief designer Pierpaolo Piccioli.
Now, "all eyes will be on de Sarno’s talent and creativity, and how he can collaborate with the merchandising team at Gucci," said Caroline Reyl, head of premium brands at Pictet Asset Management.
Creative directors are particularly scrutinized when a brand is in a transition, she said.
The announcement of his appointment came ahead of Kering's 15 February earnings release, which will likely show the label's fourth-quarter sales saw one of the more pronounced slowdowns among the world's top fashion labels due to coronavirus disruptions in China.