In March 2014 I published a post in BrandWatch entitled "How to Reinvent Gucci (1): The current situation". The facts were clear: Kering's flagship brand is stalling. More than that, it seems to become more commonplace and risks losing its aura as a luxury brand (proliferation of entry-level products, opening of too many stores, etc.). Arriving on the scene in 2008, Patrizio di Marco had tried to reposition the brand from 2010 – by increasing average sales prices by 41% and reducing the ratio of "logo" products, which went from 85% to less than 50%. But this was not enough to reverse the downslide. The penalty was paid in December 2014: Patrizio di Marco (CEO) and Frida Giannini (Creative Director) are leaving the brand – the first on 1st January, and the second at the end of February after the presentation of the Autumn-Winter 2015-2016 women's collection (in fact she left earlier). Why this double exit?
I would like to pinpoint two fundamental problems of the Gucci brand - which probably weighed heavily in the balance while taking this decision:
The digression from the notion of Creative Director: We too easily forget that Tom Ford – who was Gucci's Creative Director from 1994 to 2004 - "invented" the role of Creative Director. In doing so, he propelled modern luxury brands originating in fashion & accessories towards modernity: a single individual became responsible for the overall creative dimension of a brand. The person who handled everything related to brand identity succeeded the designer/stylist: style, communication, store concepts, events, etc. Tom Ford was the first ambassador of the brand - during fashion shows, but even more so at international social events. The Creative Director is in a way the "guardian of the temple" of the brand. Frida Giannini who succeeded Tom Ford in 2006 (after Alessandra Fachinetti's short interlude) never succeeded in giving the brand a strong image - neither in stylistic coherence, nor by capitalizing on the "sexy quotient" with Tom Ford had endowed the brand with. As Nicole Phelps remarks on style.com "from a fashion perspective, the problem with Giannini’s style, if there was one, was the unpredictability of her collections - 1920s Art Deco one season, followed by Arthur Rimbaud-influenced decadence the next, and after that Marella Agnelli’s 1960s chic. Though less radical, Giannini belongs to the Marc Jacobs school of design, one in which newness counts for more than consistency". In the same way, Gucci shops were "frozen" in a concept dating back to a time when the importance of customer experience was fundamental and in which the concept of the boutique was a major factor. Loss of creativity, legitimate questions about the identity of the brand: we have here all the ingredients for a weakening of the Creation Department.
A symbolic error of the "duo" CEO/Creative Director: Gilles Auguste and myself, in our recent book "Luxury Talent Management" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) show that over the last 20 years, at the heart of luxury brand successes we find "duos", a Creative Director and a CEO (Domenico & Tom Ford at Gucci; Patrizio Bertelli & Miuccia Prada at Prada; Stanislas de Quercize & Nicolas Bos at Van Cleef & Arpels, and so on.). These duos ensure the consistent development of the brand both in its creative and business dimension. In 2011, Patrizio di Marco and Frida Giannini had officialised their relationship: so, we had a "real" couple at the head of Gucci – much like Prada. But there is a major difference between Gucci and Prada: di Marco and Giannini are employees of the company, while Bertelli and Prada are owners. We should not lose sight of the fact that brands and luxury groups are family companies (Kering, Richemont and LVMH, and also of course the Pinault, Rupert and Arnault families). Salaried executives should never forget this: they have to comply with the rules laid down by family companies – and above all, not perturb symbols that may cause owners to believe that they think of themselves as anything other than employees.