How under the Gucci label, Alessandro Michele created a brand worth watching

No one can doubt Alessandro Michele’s talent as a designer. In just three years, his Italian firm Gucci has shot to No 2 in a study of the world’s 25 biggest luxury brands by consultancy Bain & Company.

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Yet, Italy’s biggest fashion house is making headlines over its plans to call itself just that: Gucci. The last owner, Kering, announced in March 2016 that it was discontinuing the Maison Alexander McQueen, the hyphenated label that carved out the shop window for Gucci to make its entrance in 1990. Since then, reports have emerged that the new owner, the US private equity firm TPG, has been discussing plans to change the brand’s name to Gucci.

On Thursday night, in Florence, Gucci hosted its first official event since the takeover, the unveiling of its new flagship in the busy Tuscan city. The headquarters of the “House of Gucci” in Florence. Photograph: Ryan Mathison/AFP/Getty Images

At the palace of Duomo, a dazzling array of guffagrass and street art posed the question: had in three years the split with McQueen’s previous owner, Belgian fashion house Martin Margiela, tipped the balance? To see if Gucci had taken on the confidence of its name, the Guardian attended the unveiling of a new “House of Gucci” building on the main street of Florence.

Despite their commitment to social engagement, such events are decidedly inward-looking. However, some commentators pointed out that instead of the brand’s founders – brothers Alessandro and Graziano Guerini, who went on to become creative directors – currently the new owners have invited Caroline Bartoletti, a 31-year-old musician whose 2014 single Shine On was a viral success, to perform a set of renditions of Gucci tunes.

Caroline Bartoletti (centre), dressed in an ‘Aztec fusion’ Gucci dress with a skeleton logo – a machete effect – by Alessandro Michele. Photograph: Ty Hodgson/Gucci

Gucci has also abandoned plans to have Michele’s Spring Summer collection ready for the catwalk in Milan this year. “Next seasons’ catwalk collection is not an option,” Michele told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. “The work is advancing, but it’s unpredictable in areas that also require patience.”

While Gucci brand manager Anna Fico denied that the brand was interested in the success of another designer’s name, she did emphasise how involved Michele has been in the decision to change the name. “It was Alessandro, along with Alessandro Michele. He said: ‘I don’t want to stay Machel. I want the brand name’. The two ideas had different origin and a different gestation.”

Michele would likely approve, given that he is taking a poetic, almost mystical, approach to Gucci’s name, simply positioning it in the continuum of his non-capitalistic work. If the Gucci name turns out to be a malleable, life-affirming one – not a nightmare of a fashion house created under the guise of the 24-hour news cycle – Michele’s creative revolution at Gucci may yet succeed in making this acquisition more than just a PR face-lift.

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