When a brand is between creative directors and in fashion limbo, the show must go on. The juggernaut must continue. Gucci’s February 24 outing, during Milan Fashion Week, was credited to its design team (all of whom emerged for the final bow). Was the Italian luxury brand’s runway a palette cleanser from departing designer Alessandro Michele or a hint at the shapes of things to come under Sabato de Sarno, prior to his September debut? Or a combination of the two? No one could call the collection boring, but the show was certainly divisive—though it had some fabulous moments.
What’s left when a brand’s figurehead—and its cult of personality—departs? What codes will be kept? Will de Sarno rip them up and start over, or reap the archives? His appointment echoes that of his predecessor. When Michele took Gucci’s reins in 2015, his promotion was seen as sidestepping the industry trend of bringing on a superstar big-name designer. But it wasn’t long before the man-behind-the-curtain proved to be a visionary and star in his own right. His romantic, retro-1970s androgyne glam reinvigorated the house, but many of the brand’s naysayers found this new version to have the sex appeal of a mud mask and curlers. It was the antithesis of Tom Ford, whose specter loomed large.
For Fall 2023, the design team seemed to cherry-pick elements of both designers. (Per usual, Frida Giannini was left out of the equation like Jan Brady.) A “G” pasty bikini here, an oversized nutcracker hat there. The resulting narrative was how the Gucci girl got her groove back, an erotically charged vamp through 1980s New Wave on noxiously glamorous mustard carpeting. The jarring new emphasis on sex appeal didn’t jibe with everyone. deemed it “sleazy and misogynistic, this was the worst Gucci show in years.” It wasn’t perfect, but it was also a breath of fresh air and a cool, offbeat hodgepodge.
The collection marked a swing from the Michele era, but importantly, his eccentric edge remained. There was plenty of colorful faux fur, sheer fabrics, shiny moments, and distorted prom dresses. But what stands out is that the simpler the team would go, the more resounding the message—the oversized suiting and coats, skewed just enough to be out of the ordinary. Underneath all of the glitz and feathers and drama, there was a minimal streak that was very welcome to see again at the house. Who knows what direction Sabato de Sarno will take, but his new team will surely be rich in suggestions.