Are you among those who think marketing is the greatest invention of the twentieth century, or do you play on the team of those who consider it dangerous to our minds and freedom of choice?

An almost atavistic debate that Gucci’s latest fashion show allows us to explore. Let’s start here: sometimes we need to be reminded that marketing can be an ace up our sleeve, but it can also be a crazy card that threatens to make us lose our hand, especially in an industry like fashion. It can make a brand desirable, it can promote the success of an aesthetic style with which customers recognize themselves (see the Jaquemus and Djerf Avenue cases), but it can also deflect attention away from the ideals the brand wishes to promote.

Giulia Simonotti

In some cases, it generates expectations that are too high, as happened at the launch of Gucci’s new line, unveiled in September 2023. As everyone knows, the beloved and hated Alessandro Michele ‘left’ the reins of the creative direction of the fashion house last fall, probably because the parent company, Kering, wanted to shake up the revenue tree, now stable since the pandemic. The (unworthy?) chopstick task (the method by which an olive tree is shaken to harvest fruit) was entrusted to Sabato De Sarno, Pierpaolo Piccioli’s former right-hand man at Valentino’s. A figure little exposed to the spotlight until now.  After all, Gucci, in the past, had already bet, twice, on “unknowns” to relaunch itself (Tom Ford and Alessandro Michele were certainly not renowned designers before running the brand): there is no two without three!

But let us leave Gucci’s strategies aside and return to focus on what preceded the presentation of De Sarno’s first signature collection: the GUCCI ANCORA.  First, any trace of the Gucci of recent years was removed from the brand’s social pages and website, and then the content was promoted with a burgundy red, elected emblem of the new signature aesthetic. An intriguing move: it has been a couple of months that shades of this pantone have been depopulating online and being referred to as the color of fall; too bad that the collection just presented (in which this hue is ubiquitous) is the ready-to-wear for spring 2024. Perhaps it was a gamble to ride a trend that could disappear in a matter of months! Despite the risk, our hue was the undisputed protagonist of Gucci’s huge marketing campaign around the world: a series of billboards with the words “Gucci again” in a red field, installed in major international metropolises (including Bangkok, Naples, Tokyo, and London…), accompanied by a special tribute to the city of Milan, where even a streetcar was involved in the advertising campaign.

But that’s not all, the most incredible part of the frenetic promotional activity involved influencer marketing: the most well-known social pages in the fashion world, for example hautelemode, included the new coloring in their profile photos throughout the day of the fashion show; and, to top it off, countless celebrities attended the show wearing burgundy-red details or accessories. Perhaps the most striking name is that of Kendall Jenner.

As is easy to deduce, the hype for the September 22 event reached unheard-of levels; it was even more talked about when it was announced that the location had been changed, from the picturesque streets of Brera to the maison’s headquarters on Via Mecenate, due to bad weather.

Yet, the fashion show did not cause as much of a stir: obviously, the sophistication and quality of Gucci’s creations did not disappoint, but the garments themselves did not meet the expectations generated by the brand in the preceding weeks. Indeed, critics noted a certain similarity to other fashion houses where De Sarno has worked, see Prada and Valentino. Indeed, the white tank tops are typical of the former and the glittery mini-dresses are a great Piccioli classic.  Overall, it is possible to say that this collection fits perfectly into the recent quiet luxury trend, as De Sarno himself anticipated when describing the concept of the fashion show: “It is a story made of movies, of my beloved Italy, of intellectuals and travels around the world, but it is also about feeling at home wherever you go.”

Gucci seems to have disappointed us or, perhaps, just raised our expectations too high. The redundant (and risky) marketing campaign has made meeting them virtually impossible. A question arises: what if the real goal of the operation was not critical acclaim, but a spike in sales? We only have to wait for the numbers in the coming months to resolve the question. What is certain is that this great-fitting parade has all the makings of a good ROI! Perhaps, as Oscar Wilde would have said, Kering doesn’t care whether it is talked about well or badly, the important thing is that it is talked about!

Artwork by Joe Colosimo