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Valentino must beware becoming Gucci 2.0

The fashion house has named Alessandro Michele, of Gucci fame, as its new top designer. The timing is good, but success requires treading carefully

Models present creations from the Gucci Fall/Winter 2024 collection during Fashion Week in Milan, Italy, February 23, 2024. REUTERS/Claudia Greco
Models present creations from the Gucci Fall/Winter 2024 collection during Fashion Week in Milan, Italy, February 23, 2024. REUTERS/Claudia Greco (REUTERS)

Get ready for Granentino. 

Valentino, the fashion house that’s 30% owned by Kering SA, has named Alessandro Michele, the former creative director of its flagship brand Gucci, as its new top designer. He succeeds Pierpaolo Piccioli who stepped down last week. 

The appointment has the potential to transform the label controlled by Qatar’s Mayhoola. It also underlines the increasing crossover between the two Italian brands: Michele’s replacement at Gucci, Sabato De Sarno, joined from Valentino. But to make the latest switch work, Kering and Valentino must avoid some of the pitfalls that saw Gucci go from hot to has-been.

It’s hard to overstate Michele’s influence on Gucci. From 2015, he transformed the brand with his “Granny Chic” designs, characterized by clashing prints, cat-motif sweaters and pussy-bow blouses. His maximalist aesthetic disrupted the prevailing minimalism, ushering in a bold new era across fashion retail, with bright colours, details such as embroidery and reinvented logos.

Also read: Alessandro Michele is the new creative chief of Valentino

In doing so, he and former Gucci chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri more than doubled revenue from just under €4 billion ($4.3 billion) in 2015 to €10.5 billion in 2022, when Michele left.

Valentino is an iconic name, with its roots in haute couture. In recent years, it has moved from classic to cutting-edge, with hit pieces such as its studded shoes, V-logoed bags and vertiginous platform heels. So it’s easy to see Michele’s style being transferred to the house. For example, two years ago, under Piccioli, Valentino debuted a show exclusively in bright pink, creating a frenzy for the color across fashion retail. Michele will also be reunited with Valentino CEO Jacopo Venturini, who was Gucci’s chief merchandizing officer and also instrumental in the brand’s reinvention.

There are signs consumers are beginning to tire of quiet luxury, so the time may be right for something new. And Michele brings a network of A-list celebrities, such as Harry Styles, Jared Leto and Lana Del Rey, who will make Valentino more visible. At Gucci, he was also an accomplished collaborator, for example with Adidas AG.

But Mayhoola and Kering, which has the option to buy the remaining shares in Valentino by 2028, must tread carefully.

Although Michele initially won an army of young fans, with his G-logo belts and horsebit loafers, his exuberance became increasingly out of touch with reality — first amid the anxiety of the pandemic and then soaring inflation. Kering has now pivoted to a sleeker look at Gucci under De Sarno, although those collections have so far received a mixed response.

Valentino must ensure that Michele’s designs reflect the house’s elegance and have their own identity, avoiding becoming Gucci 2.0 or “Valentucci.” This is imperative as many consumers, particularly in China, have now tired of his opulence. 

Perhaps the biggest risk for Kering is that if Michele gets it right at Valentino, the brand could compete for customers with Gucci. Although Kering would benefit from a turbo-charged Valentino, Gucci is much more significant. It accounted for about half of the group’s sales and 70% of operating profits last year; Valentino generated sales of €1.4 billion in 2022. Kering said last week that it expected Gucci’s sales to fall almost 20% in the first quarter.

One option would be to complete the Gucci-Valentino switch and have Piccioli join De Sarno at Gucci. While such a move might raise eyebrows, Miuccia Prada has shown that co-creative directors can work: She has been joined by Raf Simons at Prada SpA, injecting fresh life into the label.

As Michele demonstrated with his show that sent sets of identical twins down the runway, sometimes it’s good to see double.

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering consumer goods and the retail industry. Previously, she was a reporter for the Financial Times.

Also read: Valentino cancels June fashion shows


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