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What Alessandro Michele's Gucci exit says about fashion world

His departure reignites a debate on creative directors being subjected to performance pressure

Alessandro Michele during the Gucci Autumn/Winter 2016 show in Milan in 2016.
Alessandro Michele during the Gucci Autumn/Winter 2016 show in Milan in 2016. (REUTERS)

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In fashion, one day you're in, the next day you're out. Today's muse is tomorrow's old news. 

Alessandro Michele, 49, who took the creative director charge at Gucci in 2015, has been creating his unique brand of magic season after season. Fashion critic Sarah Mower, in her critique on for Michele's 2017 ready-to-wear showcase, noted, "In dark days like these, infecting people all around the world with the desire to buy, despite everything, is indeed rare commercial sorcery." It was the same show when Kering's top boss François-Henri Pinault and his wife, Salma Hayek, gave him a standing ovation. Cut to the present, he's out. Reports say due to brand fatigue, he was asked to take a new creative direction, which resulted in creative differences, leading to his departure.

In September, Riccardo Tisci exited Burberry after five years, and Daniel Lee, the former creative director of Bottega Veneta, was appointed. 

Also read: How Gucci can revive the buzz around Gucci

Moreover, there's also a trend of deleting the entire Instagram work and archives of the creative director who leaves the company. In 2016, after Hedi Slimane's exit, Saint Laurent had deleted his body of work from their Instagram. 

All these instances raise some difficult questions: Are corporate behemoths putting too much pressure on creative directors to perform to generate exponential sales? Why is there little respect for the creative director's archive when the brand in question recruits a new artistic force? Is fashion all about selling, chasing the new consumer, fuelling a desire for the new 'it' bag? Lounge spoke to some members of the fashion industry to get some answers:

'A luxury label is an anthology, not a novel.'

Designer Nachiket Barve says: "The fashion system is structured now. There are fashion behemoths, which control and operate the labels. Initially, when you look at the house of Dior or Chanel, they were led by a singular creative force that inspired the legacy. Today, the entire structure is changed, so it's about the fashion corporation, which owns the house and dictates the taste of what consumers want. It's something from the point of view of a fashion house. For them, it makes sense to have a palate cleanser every few years because you're constantly rebooting and making it accessible to a newer customer. That job lies with the creative director when he's also the owner of the company like in the case of Miuccia Prada or Armani. When it comes to a corporate-owned label, the minute the growth feels plateaued, they want to bring in the new vision. A luxury label today is a book with many chapters—an anthology of short stories rather than a novel," he adds.

'In fashion, one's forgotten easily'

Stylist Edward Lalrempuia observes that at the end of the day, fashion is a serious business and the company is always keeping track on what's working and what's not in terms of campaigns and product offerings. "Apparently, Gucci had requested Alessandro to take a new creative direction and tweak his core aesthetic. And when he stood by his signature vocabulary and refused to change, they parted ways. For business, it didn't make sense. If you remember Marc Jacobs' longest era at Louis Vuitton, after his departure, the whole brand aesthetic changed. Unfortunately, even for Riccardo Tisci, it didn't work wonderfully at Burberry. So there are so many factors, which determine the hiring and firing of creative directors. It's very shocking to me that they let him go as he literally changed the game for Gucci. I think it was their best era after Tom Ford. In fashion, you get forgotten easily. Look at Bottega Veneta: Tomas Maier was so well respected and later his work was forgotten once the new creative director came in. It's the sad truth," Lalrempuia says.

Alessandro is one of the few creative directors, who offered a tribute to his predecessor Tom Ford when he recontextualised the red trouser suit (worn by Gwyneth Paltrow from the Fall 1996 collection) for the Gucci Aria show. Lalrempuia observes that for archival updates, Instagram isn't the only place and one can't discount a designer's legacy just by deleting the IG feed. "I still check out Riccardo's old collections at Givenchy on YouTube. To me, their legacy will always be there. Just deleting imagery on Instagram doesn't erase their archive or legacy," he adds.

'Performance pressure is uncalled for'

Designer Shruti Sancheti observes that these are volatile times and the consumer mindset is confused and apprehensive. "Recession is around the corner, the consumer behaviour is unpredictable, hence the pressure on the creative director is uncalled for. Today, it's about survival. It's sad because the same person has given you so many marvellous seasons," she notes.

Also read: Alessandro Michele steps down as Gucci creative director


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