As Alessandro Michele leaves Gucci, Raf Simons shutters his 27-year-old brand, and Tom Ford sells to Estée Lauder Companies—all in the space of just over a week—Tatler Asia’s fashion director Cherry Mui dives into what these seismic shifts will bring to the industry

It’s no exaggeration to say that fashion had experienced an earthquake over the last few weeks.
 
On November 24, Gucci confirmed that it is parting ways with Alessandro Michele, who had been the creative force at the Italian house for almost eight years. Raf Simons, who had run his namesake label since 1995, announced its closure on November 22. And just the week before, Tom Ford sold his clothing and accessories brand to Estée Lauder Companies in a deal reportedly valued at US$2.8 billion.

Read more: Gucci Designer Alessandro Michele Exits the Italian House

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 06: Harry Styles and Alessandro Michele attend The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes On Fashion at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 06, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage )
Above NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 06: Harry Styles and Alessandro Michele attend The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes On Fashion at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 06, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage )

The seismic shifts took industry watchers by surprise. Simons’s fans, in particular, were left in sorrow in the wake of the closure announcement, flooding social media with posts of themselves dressed in cherished pieces by the Belgian designer. The news, announced by Simons on Instagram, was sudden: at his spring-summer 2023 show in London in October, there was no sign that it was going to be his brand’s final collection.

These followed what had already felt like a game of musical chairs in fashion for some time. On September 28, Burberry announced Daniel Lee as its new creative director. Lee, who left Bottega Veneta in 2021, replaced Riccardo Tisci at the British brand. In the same month, 26-year-old British designer Maximilian Davis, who was appointed creative director of Ferragamo last year, presented his debut collection for the Italian house. Meanwhile, Matthieu Blazy, who cut his teeth working under Raf Simons, Daniel Lee, Maison Martin Margiela and Phoebe Philo, and who was named Bottega Veneta’s creative director last year, presented his second collection for the brand. For anyone now after creative director positions at fashion houses, you have big shoes to fill: aside from the role Michele left behind at Gucci, Louis Vuitton is looking for a menswear designer after Virgil Abloh’s passing.

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Above Ferragamo spring-summer 2023 show (Photo: Ferragamo)
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Above Bottega Veneta pre-spring 2023 collection (Photo: Bottega Veneta)
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Above Kate Moss walked for Bottega Veneta spring-summer 2023 show (Photo: Bottega Veneta)

Michele’s tenure at Gucci is remembered for his modernising of the brand, with a unique, retro-romantic aesthetic; and forward-thinking, gender-fluid designs. He was given total freedom to create a new image for Gucci—the dressing of celebrities and impeccable marketing, in particular, drew Gen Z to the storied brand. Simons is known for his euphoric, provocative designs, resonating with the youth and underground cultures. He had previously helmed Jil Sander, Christian Dior and Calvin Klein and remains co-creative director at Prada. His archive collections—basically, anything with his name on it—remain sought-after in the resale market, and his brand’s closure will no doubt inspire mania among fashion collectors.

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PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 19: Designer Raf Simons at the Raf Simons show during Paris Men's Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 on June 19, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Estrop/Getty Images)
Above PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 19: Designer Raf Simons at the Raf Simons show during Paris Men's Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 on June 19, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Estrop/Getty Images)

Growing Pains

But in business, there is no time for sorrow, and fashion is, after all, a business. As the largest brand under Kering Group, accounting for 57 per cent of its revenue, Gucci had been accused of reaching “brand fatigue”, which some attribute to Michele’s maximalist style—something the designer consistently delivered.
 
Michele did bring a period of rapid growth to Gucci: revenues roughly tripled, and profits quadrupled, from 2015 to 2019, according to the Financial Times. However, revenue growth had also been slowing down since 2017, at 45 per cent that year, 37 per cent in 2018 and 13 per cent in 2019. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, Gucci saw a 45 per cent plunge in its revenue, and despite achieving its €10 billion annual revenue target in 2021, Gucci still lags behind its major rivals like Louis Vuitton, Dior and Hermès, which have all seen sales jumps this year.

In case you missed it: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi Face Off in New Louis Vuitton Campaign

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Above Gucci HA HA HA collection (Photo:Gucci)
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Above Gucci spring-summer 2023 Twinsberg show (Photo: Gucci)

‘Forward Always’

It seems a trend for culture-shifting designers at the top of their game to quit in favour of other creative pursuits. And they become legendary––think Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela, who respectively left fashion in 2005 and 2009 to go into the arts; and Phoebe Philo, who departed Céline in 2017 to work on creating her own brand.
 
Ford, who transformed Gucci into a fashion powerhouse in 2005 before launching his eponymous brand, is expected to become a billionaire following the sale of his company. The movie-star-like designer is widely considered a major force in shaping the red carpet and celebrity culture of the nineties and noughties, and has also found a passion in film directing. The sale of the Tom Ford brand to Estée Lauder Companies could also signal an industry departure for the designer: according to the Financial Times, sources suggest Ford will only want to stay with the brand until the end of 2023.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 06: Tom Ford attends The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 06, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)
Above NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 06: Tom Ford attends The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 06, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)

Simons, who signed off his announcement with “forward always, Raf”, is still very much at the forefront of fashion. At Prada, he and Miuccia Prada have presented womenswear and menswear collections for five seasons and counting. Each collection combines Prada’s sophisticated silhouettes with Simons’s effortless eccentricity, which results in commercial allure. Fans also speculate whether Simons is just taking a short break, considering the designer was on a brief hiatus in 2000—and then came back with Riot, Riot, Riot, his now-iconic autumn-winter 2001 collection. He could also be taking a leaf out of Demna’s book—the latter chose to focus on his job at Balenciaga, and ceased associations with Vetements, the brand he founded.

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PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 19: Designer Raf Simons at the Raf Simons show during Paris Men's Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 on June 19, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Estrop/Getty Images)
Above PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 19: Designer Raf Simons at the Raf Simons show during Paris Men's Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 on June 19, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Estrop/Getty Images)

What Comes Next?

As the game of musical chairs continues, fashion critics are also beginning to worry if the new generation of designers, who cut their teeth in the social media era, can carry out the responsibility of pushing the industry forward.
 
Perhaps, in the new era to come, missions and expectations are shifting, and becoming more challenging: how can we ensure sustainability and inclusivity in the fashion industry, without it losing its provoking creative edge?

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