The fashion stakes could hardly have been higher for Sabato de Sarno’s debut as creative director at Gucci in Milan. His predecessor, Alessandro Michele, had delivered stratospheric success for the Italian fashion house in his almost eight-year tenure, taking sales to more than €10 billion and presiding over an eclectic, romantic look that was copied everywhere. He left his role in November last year after the novelty wore off and his aesthetic failed to evolve.
Then there was the “placeholder” show in February designed by the in-house atelier team. My colleague Lisa Armstrong called the sheer skirts, tiny bra tops and slashed-to-the-hip dresses “sleazy and misogynistic”, adding “this was bad look after bad look meeting utter tone deafness”.
And her observation that “a posse of influencers” who were seated in a segregated pit area of the show venue “some of them literally dressed as clowns in pierrot diamond patterns from the last Gucci collection, applauded enthusiastically” caused a vicious backlash among those influencers and their many fans on social media. It was all rather unedifying and hardly the stuff of ultra-luxury dreams, the marker which Gucci was said to be keen to return to.
And so to de Sarno’s first show, a moment which had been hyped with images of Noughties supermodel Daria Werbowy tanned and glistening in a swimming pool, wearing little except chunky gold jewellery, hinting at a return to the slick, risqué sensuality that Gucci encapsulated under Tom Ford in the 1990s, the moment when a sleepy heritage brand was rocketed to mega brand status.
Forty-year-old de Sarno, who previously worked at Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and, most recently, Valentino, had wanted to show his first collection outdoors in the fashionable Brera area of Milan, but forecasts of terrible weather (which never quite came to fruition) forced the show into a giant black warehouse, with Julia Roberts, Ryan Gosling and Julianne Moore among the front-row VIPs – this time there was no designated influencer zone (phew) and the new Gucci was thrown into sharp focus.
Slick, sometimes sexy, sometimes sporty, there wasn’t a whiff of the geek-frump vibe so loved by Michele. Somehow even grey sweatshirts looked elegant, paired with shiny, knee-length skirts and pointed-toe pumps. Although it presented as entirely modern, de Sarno had looked to the rich heritage of Gucci, which was founded in 1921.
He coined his own colour, “rosso ancora”, which recalls the shade on the wall of the staff lift at the Savoy, where Guccio Gucci once worked as a porter, stamping it with the Gucci logo and using it across clothing and accessories – catnip for anyone ready to abandon the quiet luxury trend and shout their brand allegiance loud.
And glittering embellishments and crystal fringing – the navy sweatshirt with a giant disco ball collar will be everywhere – which will read as dazzlingly on TikTok as on the red carpet, came from 1950s embroideries discovered in the archive.
For anyone tired of fashion’s constant cycle of newness, some tropes revived or promoted to new levels of desirability during Michele’s Gucci weren’t entirely relegated to the back of the store cupboard – “It’s a story of everything, again, but this time expressed through joy,” read the show notes.
So you can keep your Horsebit loafers – here they were paired with ultra-short tailored shorts (a trend that’s going nowhere next season) or more grown-up and sophisticated oversized sleeveless coats. For anyone after a real flash of novelty, they now come with giant platforms, too.
The Jackie and Bamboo handbags that are synonymous with Gucci were also front and centre, sometimes shrunken down into teeny-tiny form or bejewelled with crystals. There was a new chunky Gucci trainer and delectable spangly stilettos, which looked like glittery silver mops.
“It’s a very Italian brand with a huge heritage. Italian in craftsmanship, Italian in taste, and we lost that I think,” de Sarno told Vogue last week. “I want to bring it back. Italianity is part of my story, for sure.”
While the pursuit of French style has become an obsession for so many women, Italian style that doesn’t look clichéd has been hard to pinpoint. But in one of de Sarno’s lace-trimmed slip dresses or minimalist LBDs, a giant pair of logo-emblazoned sunglasses and slingback heels, the new Gucci might just be it. Not so tone-deaf this time, thankfully.