Evolution theory | Monocle

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Can you describe the position that Gucci now occupies in luxury but also in retail and popular culture?
That’s a very big question. I always start with how nobody has a crystal ball. When I joined Gucci in 2015 the thing that I had in my mind, together with Alessandro [Michele, Gucci’s creative director], was that I was seeing fashion like an old lady who was getting a little bored. There was a kind of a detachment to this industry, especially from the younger generation. And therefore there were big opportunities for a brand such as ours that has been up and down over the past 30 years.

This brand has a characteristic of reinventing itself very, very often. So it’s different to other players in the industry that tend to be more consistent through the years. Though this can be a weakness, it can also be a great opportunity because flexibility allows you to think in different ways and reinvent yourself whenever you want to. It doesn’t necessarily mean that what you do is going to be successful but there’s certainly a possibility. This is very much in the mind of the people working for Gucci. With Alessandro, we wanted to make a big change and we were successful.

We would like to maintain this kind of success for longer than we have in the past. And we’re doing a good job. This is due to the protectiveness that we feel for the brand and the fact that we’re not aiming for short-term results. For this to be the case, you need to have people around you who think in the same way as you and are willing to take risks.

The aesthetic evolution of Gucci since Alessandro’s arrival has been quite dramatic, with references to the past but constantly thinking about the present. We are always on our toes at this brand. We cannot be complacent.

When you’re looking at your brand’s communication strategy and at where your collections are going, do you have one core customer in mind?
Our core customer is – and don’t laugh about this – the human being. It’s not a matter of age, it’s not a matter of mindset and it’s not a matter of gender, sexual preferences or geographical provenance. Our core customer is very much someone who wants to be himself or herself in his or her own way. What I mean is that we want to enhance the capacity for self-expression that is in every one of us. So that is why we were able to resonate with different segments at the beginning. But frankly, to be extremely honest, we didn’t really plan to address Generation Z or millennials when we started. We wanted to do something that was consistent with the values of Gucci as seen through the eyes of Alessandro and that pulled together what was happening in the streets.

The other day Alessandro was saying something that I found extremely interesting to hear, which is that at certain points he introduced the message of gender fluidity, especially in the first show in January 2015. And what he said was, “I didn’t invent anything. I was just walking the streets and I was watching what was happening with people who don’t want to be framed by any kind of rule about what they can buy. Men and women have a right to wear what they want, independent of the gender they come from.” It was something that was happening in society; it was not a matter of us inventing anything. The fact that we were able to match the values of the company with what was going on outside is what, in the past, all of the marketing gurus were calling “positioning”. But for us this is coming in a more natural way.

And the changes that Alessandro is making now with the Aria collection, with the aesthetic of Aria, reflect the same kind of thought – not too many focus groups, not too much of asking consumers what they want. For the most part, consumers don’t know precisely what is going to happen, what the future holds. So you need to innovate and propel yourself to try to intercept things in advance to get a competitive advantage. And, of course, there needs to be a little bit of risk. When you do something that maybe nobody has done in the past but the bet is good, the reward is very high.

How do you see the state of the market right now? How does the landscape look to you from a recovery point of view?
Among ceos I’m on the optimistic side. In fact, you cannot be a pessimistic ceo – you should change your job if you are. In 2021 the industry has been experiencing a remarkable rebound. Europe, of course, slowed down because of [the decline in] tourism but there was a rebound in local consumers. China and the US are flying with data that is quite incredible. So what we have learned from this is that flexibility and elasticity are important values that you need to have as a business. And then how we manage our warehouses and supply chains becomes absolutely crucial. Another key point is that this situation just accelerated trends that were already happening. Think about all of the recent digitalisation, not just in terms of e-commerce spending but also of people who prefer to have more digitalised work arrangements. The move to smarter working set-ups was already happening.

To go back to the Gucci journey, starting in 2015, we were benefiting significantly from the flows of tourists. So we didn’t have to create long-term value or long-term relationships with certain clients, whereas after the virus kicked in we were obliged to do so. It is great for the future to create this kind of relationship and an attachment to the brand. So personalisation, selling one to one, is becoming increasingly important.

There has been a lot of press about Gucci’s collaboration on a suite at the Savoy hotel in London. Are such collaborations primarily about marketing the brand? Or do you plan, for example, to eventually expand into a whole hotel chain? How far can you stretch the brand?
The collaborations that we have been involved in until now were all very authentic. And they were all driven by an attachment that we felt to the values of a company, brand or artist that we were working with. To me, the possibilities of expanding the collaborations and the ways in which the brand can be perceived are endless. There is no limit whatsoever. That doesn’t mean that there will be a business case in many instances but they could just create curiosity, generate attention for the brand or change the way in which it approaches the industry.

From the beginning that has been the way in which Alessandro opened up the brand to artists. He has brought about many collaborations with different artists and brands in order to make sure that there was this kind of open-minded approach at Gucci.

What brands do you most admire in any sector? You can’t say Apple.
Apple, for sure! A man I greatly admire is [author James] Patterson because he created a brand in books. He is incredible: he’s essentially writing a book every 15 days. I also admire Hermès, because what it has done in recent decades has been extremely coherent. I like that it plays the game without compromises. We’re not playing in exactly the same area and our values are different but what it has been doing and what it has done are extremely good.

Is Italianness – that is, ‘brand Italy’ – still vital to Gucci? You’re a global brand but your creative set-up is largely based in Milan and Rome. Is that important?
The fact that we are Italian is like oxygen for us. You don’t realise how much you need oxygen until you start to have problems breathing. In a similar way, being Italian is absolutely key for us. We have 95 per cent of our production in Italy; that 5 per cent happens elsewhere because, for example, we make our watches in Switzerland.

We got lucky as a company and our Italianness is a big part of the values of the brand. The company was born in Florence in 1921. That makes this the year of our 100th anniversary. In Italy we are surrounded by beauty. There is a passage of information, of knowledge, from artisan to artisan and to all of the laboratories that surround Florence – not just Florence but Italy as a whole. That is something that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

The fact is that products can be copied but they cannot be invented in the way that things are in Italy because the knowledge required has been stratified here since the Renaissance. This kind of capability, combined with the creative minds that we have in Gucci and in the country as a whole, can’t be reproduced anywhere else. So to answer your question: we are Italian, we are proud to be Italian and we will never move anywhere else. The energy and the fuel that we have from being part of this territory are why we continue to be at the edge of innovation in our industry.

Monocle 24 radio
‘The Chiefs’ with Tyler Brûlé

To hear a longer version of this interview, tune into ‘The Chiefs’ on Monocle 24 radio.

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