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The Potential of Alessandro Michele at Valentino

MILAN — One would expect nothing but poetry from Alessandro Michele on his new role as creative director at Valentino.

Addressing his new appointment, the designer celebrated “the beginning of spring, the life that is regenerating and the promise on new blossoms” as he expressed his “joy, to pay tribute to it: the smiles kicking in the chest, the sense of deep gratitude that lights up the eyes, that precious moment when need and beauty reach out to one another. Joy is such a living thing that I’m afraid to hurt it, by saying the word.”

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Not your usual statement from a designer taking on his post as creative director of a brand, but entirely in line with Michele’s renowned inner musings and meditative disposition.

On Thursday, Valentino confirmed Michele would succeed Pierpaolo Piccioli, starting at the Rome-based couture house on Tuesday and unveiling his first collection for spring 2025 in Paris.

This comes almost a week after WWD was the first to report last Friday that Piccioli was exiting Valentino after 25 years based on information from market sources, who also believed that Michele was negotiating a contract to join Valentino. Piccioli’s last fall 2024 all-black collection shown during Paris Fashion Week earlier this month was his swansong for the brand. On Monday, Valentino said it was sitting out menswear and couture weeks in June, generally shown in Paris.

Valentino Pre-Fall 2019
Pierpaolo Piccioli

On his Instagram handle, Michele on Thursday wrote that he felt “enormous responsibility” in taking on the role at a couture house “that has engraved the word ‘beauty’ in a collective story made of research and extreme grace. My first thought goes to this story: to the richness of its cultural and symbolic heritage, to the sense of wonder that it has been able to constantly generate, to the very precious identity that its founding fathers, Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti, gave it with unbridled love. These are references that have always been an indisputable source of inspiration for me and to which I intend to pay tribute by re-reading them through my creative vision.”

Michele thanked Rachid Mohamed Rachid, chairman of Valentino and chief executive officer of parent Mayhoola, for this “lifetime opportunity,” and expressed “immense and boundless thanks to Jacopo Venturini,” CEO of Valentino.

“Going back to work with him is a wonderful dream come true for me. Jacopo is not only an extraordinary professional, able to combine pragmatism with strategic ability, skills and sensitivity. He is above all a man capable of celebrating the daily falling in love with life, with his passions and his ability to care.”

The designer and Venturini, who was named CEO of Valentino in 2020, worked together when the latter was executive vice president, merchandising and global markets at Gucci.

Michele will be based in Rome, where Valentino was founded in 1960. Sources say that remaining in the Italian capital was a firm prerequisite for the designer’s decision to accept the job.

“For the last 12 years, as a team, we dedicated our time and resources to develop the Maison Valentino brand and business to become a world class couture house built on the unique heritage and creativity of Mr. Valentino Garavani, representing the best world of elegance and beauty,” Rachid said in a statement. “We have been able to grow it in reputation and size over five folds, while gaining the loyalty and appreciation of our clients.”

He praised Michele as “an exceptional talent and his appointment underlines our great ambitions for Maison Valentino. I strongly believe that with his unique creativity and sensibility, he will continue the elevation of the brand’s everlasting heritage and unique Italian Maison de Couture identity. With Alessandro Michele a new page of excellence and endless beauty is ready to be written in the history of Valentino.”

There is a bit of irony in Michele taking the top design job at Valentino since it partially returns him into the orbit of Kering, which dismissed him as creative director of Gucci in November 2022. Last July, Kering revealed it had acquired a 30 percent stake in Valentino for 1.7 billion euros in cash as part of a broader strategic partnership with Qatari investment fund Mayhoola.

Kering has an option to buy 100 percent of Valentino’s capital by 2028, while Mayhoola could become a shareholder in Kering. The new luxury partners are expected to jointly explore further opportunities aligned with their respective strategies, including potential investments beyond fashion.

But on Thursday, François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of Kering, was filled with nothing but praise for Michele, saying that he was “certain that with [Michele’s] creativity, culture and versatile talent, he will be able to interpret masterfully the unique heritage of this magnificent house and make it flourish. I can’t wait to see his passion, imagination and dedication at play in this new chapter for Valentino.”

Michele had joined the Gucci design studio in 2002 following a stint as senior accessories designer at Fendi. He was appointed “associate” to then-creative director Frida Giannini in 2011, and in 2014 took on the additional responsibility of creative director of Richard Ginori, the porcelain brand acquired by Gucci in 2013. Michele was officially appointed to Gucci’s top creative role in January 2015, two days after he first took a bow at the end of the brand’s men’s fall 2015 show, promoted by then-chairman and CEO Marco Bizzarri. With that seminal show he reinvented Gucci with a completely new, quirky and androgynous aesthetic.

Backstage at Gucci RTW Fall 2015.
Backstage at Gucci fall 2015, Alessandro Michele’s first show for the brand.

Michele is said to be quickly revolutionizing the Valentino team as sources on Thursday said he was creating new communication and style teams, planning to let go of several staff members close to Piccioli.

As per the latest figures available, Valentino’s sales in 2022 reached 1.42 billion euros, up 15 percent from 2021. A financial source believes Rachid spearheaded Michele’s arrival at Valentino, expecting the designer “to bring buzz back to the brand, boost company sales and bottom line and lift its enterprise value if Kering does end buying the remaining stake of the brand.”

Another industry source also pointed to the financials involved. “With Gucci, Pinault took a chance with Michele when Marco Bizzarri promoted him. He must have thought it was time to take a leap [at Valentino], really boost revenues, which have grown but not significantly over the past few years, and bet once again on Alessandro, who quickly propelled sales at Gucci.”

Although Gucci’s business slowed down by 2022 and Michele was urged by investors and some retailers to switch gears before he finally was let go, the designer had returned Gucci to the fashion forefront, catering to a younger customer. With Bizzarri the brand posted growth exceeding 35 percent for five consecutive quarters by the first quarter of 2018.

“Kering will want to prove that the amount paid for 30 percent of Valentino was worth it and considering luxury multiples of around 15 times Valentino’s EBITDA, the brand could be valued at 5 billion euros,” the source said.

In 2022, Valentino’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, including the IFRS 16 impact, amounted to 337 million euros.

The deal reunites Michele with Venturini and one industry source said they did work well together at Gucci, although he admitted they sometimes clashed “as is normal when creativity does not meet business demands.”

The source said Michele will have the opportunity “to leverage Valentino’s incredible structure and skilled seamstresses, so he can do anything with their help, but my concern is that Alessandro transformed Gucci, overturning the brand, but Gucci over the years had several different lives under Tom Ford or Frida Giannini, while Valentino has a precise image as Pierpaolo stayed true to Valentino Garavani’s original aesthetics.”

Garavani and Giammetti each welcomed Michele on Instagram. “Dear Alessandro. Welcome in the world of Valentino! It is an honor to welcome you, in our world, where creativity and elegance have always been the values that have inspired us. Valentino and I are sure that your vision, sensibility and talent will further enrich our universe of beauty and style,” Giammetti wrote.

With his background first at Fendi and then at Gucci, Michele is seen as a valuable asset to develop Valentino’s accessories, a category that has growth potential, especially compared to the brand’s competitors. As per the latest figures available, accessories were expected to represent 63 percent of sales in directly operated stores in 2023, compared with 68 percent in 2022. At Gucci, Michele launched several new bags including, for example, the Dionysus unveiled in 2015, over time embellished with his imaginative floral and fauna symbols, from bees to tigers and snakes.

Valentino’s menswear in 2022 represented 14 percent of sales. The year before, the category accounted for 18 percent of the total. There is potential in this segment, too, although Michele is said to be less interested in menswear compared to womenswear — after all, he is arguably the designer that put gender-fluid looks on the map, which were embraced by Jared Leto and Harry Styles, among others —hardly traditional examples.

Designing couture was likely a big draw for Michele to join Valentino, say sources, as this is a new category for him and very much in sync with his sensibility. He has dressed a string of A-listers on the red carpet in Gucci gowns, from Jessica Chastain and Lady Gaga to Salma Hayek and Dakota Johnson, but Gucci does not have an established couture business. Despite this, Michele hardly held back at Gucci, parading dreamy and couture-like gowns throughout his tenure. Case in point: His Gucci Cosmogonie cruise 2023 show in Apulia in 2022, staged at the site of the 13th-century Castel del Monte in Italy lit up with images of antique constellation maps and shooting stars and under a full moon as Michele sent out models in medieval gowns and cascades of sequins or velvet dresses with ornate floral embellishments.

Gucci Cruise 2023
Gucci Cruise 2023

Makeup, beauty and fragrances were also strong businesses for Gucci with Coty Inc. under Michele, so there is potential in that category for Valentino, whose beauty line is licensed to L’Oréal. Given Michele’s experience with Ginori, the designer could also explore the home category for Valentino, a new territory for the brand.

While several retailers were not reachable for comment or declined to provide one on Thursday, Joseph Tang, fashion director at Holt Renfrew, said Michele’s appointment “is a phenomenal fit, exemplifying what Valentino has stood for, in recent years. As Valentino embarks on the next chapter of their brand expression, we look forward to seeing the dynamic and expressive attitude that Michele brought to Gucci. Through accessories, Valentino has created a whole community around the rock stud detail. We are excited to see how he will innovate or create a new recognizable code for the house. Michele has an ability to reinterpret a signature code of a house and make it look desirable and fresh.”

Tang continued by saying that Michele “brings an authentic elegance to his work with a touch of rebellion, which proved to be successful in his previous role at Gucci. Valentino is a brand that is known best for its commitment to artisanal craft, inclusivity and timeless fashions — all of which align with Michele’s design and creative aesthetics. We look forward to seeing the whimsy and fantasy that he will bring to the brand as a total world of lifestyle. Michele has created a community of followers, which our customers will be thrilled to have back at our stores.”

Richard Johnson, chief commercial and sustainability officer of Mytheresa, said, “Valentino’s long history with Rome, as the designer’s founding city and the location of the atelier and archive, is an indispensable part of the brand’s DNA. As Alessandro Michele’s hometown, his deep understanding and dedication to the city will undoubtedly influence his interpretation of the house.”

Johnson pointed out that Valentino is very different from Gucci, “founded in couture rather than leather goods, and seeing how [Alessandro] evolves his aesthetic for a new audience will be fascinating. He’s a designer who knows how to bring vitality and warmth to a brand, embracing a very modern take not only on his designs but also on his social values.”

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