EXCLUSIVE: Sabato De Sarno Visits Shanghai Amid Gucci Ancora City Takeover of Major Chinese Malls

SHANGHAISabato De Sarno, Gucci’s creative director for the past year, has embarked on his first trip to Shanghai, where he celebrated the launch of his first collection and spent time to forge ties with the local fashion and art communities.

To celebrate the launch of his women’s spring 2024 collection, De Sarno and his team pulled out all the stops to amplify the Gucci Ancora theme, which consists of a series of pop-ups, or Gucci Ancora City Takeovers, that spanned major cities worldwide.

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In mainland China, Gucci Ancora’s pop-ups landed in six key retail locations, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Shenzhen.

In Chengdu, Gucci opened pop-ups in Taikoo Li Chengdu and SKP Chengdu; in Beijing, Gucci popped up at Taikoo Li Sanlitun and SKP Beijing; in Shenzhen, Gucci launched at Shenzhen Bay MixC, and in Shanghai, Gucci staged a district takeover at Zhang Yuan, a historical building cluster-turned-shopping mall.

Displaying De Sarno’s penchant for fine art, Gucci worked with X Zhu-Nowell, artistic director of Rockbund Art Museum, to display various artworks within the store. The artworks were selected from “Gucci Prospettive: Shanghai Ancora,” an art volume featuring more than 70 works of art, which also made its debut during the pop-ups.

Gucci Ancora's event rollout at Zhang Yuan, Shanghai.
Gucci Ancora City Takeover at Zhang Yuan, Shanghai.
Inside the Zhang Yuan pop-up.
Inside the Zhang Yuan pop-up.

The pop-ups will be open for a week, running until Sunday, and have already created frenzied lines outside the locations.

In Shanghai, brand ambassadors, friends of the house, journalists, influencers and VIP guests gathered on Monday evening and they were pleasantly surprised by a wilder side of De Sarno. After photo calls, De Sarno first warmed the crowd as he assisted with the DJ set, then danced the night away to his favorite anthem — “Ancora, ancora, ancora” by Mina.

Gucci global brand ambassador Ni Ni and Chang Chen with Sabato De Sarno.
Gucci global brand ambassador Ni Ni and Chang Chen with Sabato De Sarno.
Chinese supermodel He Cong and Sabato De Sarno.
Chinese supermodel He Cong and Sabato De Sarno.

The following morning, De Sarno switched gears to address young fashion students at Donghua University, a former textile institution.

To formally introduce himself, Gucci let the crowd get a preview of a short film documenting De Sarno’s first show. Titled “Who is Sabato De Sarno? A Gucci Story,” the film will launch on Mubi on Friday.

The talk, moderated by Angelica Cheung, venture partner of Hongshan Capital, also included panelists Li Jun, the dean of SCF at Donghua University, and Zhu-Nowell. With the help of an Italian translator, De Sarno first shared his experience working at big fashion houses for the past 20 years, then discussed topics ranging from the arts to culture at large to sustainability.

“First, you must love this industry. Don’t be picky. Learn and absorb everything. If you have big dreams and ambitions, this will help you reach that ultimate goal,” said De Sarno, who began his career in Prada‘s textile department more than 20 years ago before working for Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino for more than 14 years.

Expressing his deep-rooted love for the brand he now leads, De Sarno revealed that one of his first luxury purchases was a red Gucci jacket designed by then-creative director Tom Ford, which he had to save up for as a 19-year-old. “So this is all very unbelievable, 21 years later, a poor kid has become a creative director,” enthused De Sarno.

Last summer, De Sarno also made a trip to Shanghai in secret. He was staying at the Bund, where he was in awe of the beauty of the Huangpu River’s dazzling skyline. “I’ve never seen so many skyscrapers in my life; it’s like a movie,” De Sarno recalled.

As a keen observer of colors, De Sarno also picked out a shade of “lovely blue” from the city, which he said was later materialized in his navy-colored pullovers and hoodies.

De Sarno and Zhu-Nowell shared thoughts on the creation of the art book that initially started with a conversation last summer.

Gucci Prospettive: Shanghai Ancora
Gucci Prospettive: Shanghai Ancora

“I was inspired by the way you approached a place, and I wanted to understand Shanghai, which is my hometown, from the perspective of Sabato,” said Zhu-Nowell.

“It was thinking about everyday life, not about Shanghai in pictures and movies, not about the branding of a place, but about everyday living and its fragmented details, which I see in your design as well,” added Zhu-Nowell.

“It’s about the simple concept of simple things, which is the most difficult to achieve. You talk about colors in ways that some philosophers talked about colors,” added Zhu-Nowell.

After the talk, De Sarno and team spent the rest of the day learning more about the local art scene before heading back to Italy.

De Sarno is among a host of creative directors who have visited the all-important Chinese market in recent months.

Last December, Pharrell Williams embarked on a China tour in key retail hubs that helped drive VIP orders. In January, Francesco Risso, creative director of Marni, hosted several intimate parties in Shanghai. Next week, Mike Amiri, the creative director of Amiri, is set to land in Shanghai.

Despite his short stay, De Sarno’s splashy rollout of his first collection in the Chinese market reaffirms the company’s ambition and confidence in turning around the Gucci brand.

A recent Bernstein analysis already points to signs of a rebound. Pieces from De Sarno’s Gucci debut that bore the most iconic Gucci elements “mostly sold out as soon as they became available on websites such as Net-a-porter,” noted the Bernstein memo.

As for the Chinese luxury market, which has been slow to recover due to broader economic uncertainties, Gucci could face more challenges ahead. “The consumption trends in China and Asia-Pacific globally in January are a little more complex to navigate and clearly more uneven,” said Jean-Marc Duplaix, parent Kering’s deputy chief executive officer in charge of operations and finance, during the group’s latest earnings call.

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