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As fashion world waits for it to name a new designer, Gucci hits the Milan catwalk

GUCCI released its Men’s 2023 Fall-Winter collection at Milan Men’s Fashion Week last weekend, showing a moody androgyny that seems to represent its search for a new direction.

Milan Fashion Week runs through Jan. 17, drawing an audience that includes major retail buyers sizing up which styles might be future top sellers. (Watch the Gucci show online here: www.gucci.com/us/en/st/gucci-fw23-men-fashion-show.)

Last November, Gucci Creative Director Alessandro Michele abruptly left Gucci, leaving behind a legacy of colorful gender-bending clothing and making singer and actor Harry Styles a muse for genderless garments.

Mr. Michele’s mark is still strong in Gucci, if one goes by an opening look of hip-hugging khaki trousers on the Milan catwalk. Other outfits on the runway that suggest Mr. Michele’s presence are ankle-length skirts on men, silver sequined garments, and that unmistakable respect to past flamboyance, seen there in daring double-breasted coats with peak lapels that have more than a whisper of the 1930s and the 1980s.

These were all presented on a runway lit in blue, while guitarist and composer Marc Ribot’s “Ceramic Dog” played live in the background. As the chorus for “Lies My Body Told Me” started, thin models in varying states of dress walked on the runway, the song and the show playing to each other. There we saw suits with the aforementioned peak lapels, in gentle pastel tones of peach and periwinkle, but also more traditional attire like suits in navy and black. Of course, these were made with a twist, hanging quite loosely on the body like zoot suits, and worn with no shirts, or just undershirts beneath them.

“A palette cleanser from the collections we have seen across the past few seasons,” Simon Longland, head of menswear and womenswear at London department store Harrods, told Reuters.

He said the show provided a “new approach” to house styles, with a range of fabrics and jacket shapes that would likely appeal to fans of its signature looks as well as new customers.

Having a circular runway was no coincidence: a release from Gucci said, “The group appears on a spherical stage around which the show takes place: a circular formation symbolic of the collaborative spinning wheel of the creative community at the heart of Gucci. It constructs a framework for a collection focused on the archetypes of the classic gentleman’s wardrobe, redefined through artisanal luxury amplification and the subversive lens of improvisation.”

If improvisation was the theme for the show, it shows through the collection, which made men appear as if they had just been trying on clothes in front of a mirror (in a good way). We saw the suits combined with the state of undress, knit sweaters, knit sweatsuits trimmed with the Gucci red and green ribbon, jeans studded with crystal Gucci logos, a few inflections of disco (like in the finale outfit, a white tank top with silver sequined trousers, making a model appear as if he had gone home from a party and had slept in his pants). The mood reflects the transitional stage of Gucci, orphaned as they are without a Creative Director.

With a little more stable success, and showing off their mastery in leather, Gucci also showed more masculine models of their bags, particularly the Gucci Jackie hobo, bostons, duffels, and a messenger version of the Dionysus. Some of these were done in soft (color- and texture-wise) crocodile, while this show also premiered quilted motorcycle boots (with matching jackets).

“The longer the wait for a new Gucci creative director, the worse the outlook for Kering,” said Luca Solca, an analyst with Bernstein in a story from Reuters, noting that “more of the same” would not help the label regain its relevance with shoppers.

REPLACEMENT NEEDEDThe Kering Group owns Gucci, Saint Laurent, currently beleaguered Balenciaga, and Bottega Veneta, among others.

Kering faces pressure to quickly find a replacement following Mr. Michele’s abrupt departure, and reignite sales growth at its largest brand, which accounted for two thirds of profits in 2021.

UBS expects Kering’s Feb. 15 earnings release will show the label’s fourth quarter sales declined by around 11%, likely one of the more pronounced slowdowns among the world’s top fashion labels, as strict COVID-19 restrictions weighed on business in China.

Analysts at HSBC, meanwhile, said efforts taken before Mr. Michele’s departure could ease the transition, predicting improvement this year regardless of who takes up creative direction.

They pointed to a recent emphasis on timeless fashions and higher-priced products as well as a ramp-up of marketing spend and an increase in the number of collections as likely serving to accelerate business.

Gucci held back on marketing investments during the pandemic, while larger rival LVMH’s two biggest labels, Louis Vuitton and Dior, pushed ahead, a move that analysts say helped them gain ground on rivals.

Kering’s other, smaller fashion houses — Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, and Balenciaga — had been growing strongly heading into the end of last year, but Balenciaga got caught up in controversy after a holiday ad campaign drew accusations of inappropriate imagery with children.

Despite the current turbulence at Kering, however, expectations are high given the group’s strong track record nurturing brands, analysts say.

The group’s brands are known for “capturing the Zeitgeist” noted Solca, who said Gucci’s past success was “the most impressive turnaround story in luxury history.”

The industry is also expecting big changes at other blockbuster labels. Top management changes at Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior announced last week prompted talk that a design team reshuffle could follow, including at Louis Vuitton’s menswear division, which has leaned on design studio team since the death of creative director Virgil Abloh in late 2021. — Joseph L. Garcia with a report from Reuters

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