Kering, the global luxury group with brands including Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Brioni, Stella McCartney and others, is going gangbusters this year, with first three quarter 2017 revenues up 26.4% on reported basis over last year. Even in North America, which has been slow to advance for most luxury brands, posted a 20.7% uptick in the first half of the year.
Leading Kering’s charge in year-over-year growth is Gucci, its Italian luxury fashion and leather goods brand. Gucci’s was up 44.5% in the nine months ending September 30, 2017. Gucci alone makes up 39% of corporate revenues, and 57% of its Luxury Activities segment. Stunning results in a luxury market that Bain & Company expects to grow 5% in 2017.
Even more impressive, Kering’s chairman and CEO Francois-Henri Pinault told CNBC that about 50% of Gucci’s sales are coming from millennials, the cohort of 35-year olds and younger, a generation that has been particularly troubling for luxury brands. This generation too has embraced Saint Laurent, Gucci’s sister brand, which does 65% of its business with millennials. “It means that we have a core category of customers that are between 25 and 35…The attractiveness of couture, of ready-to-wear is much higher for that clientele than it used to be for older people,” he said.
In capturing the attention and dollars of millennials, numerous analysts attribute Gucci’s success to its industry-leading internet strategies and how the company has managed to integrate digital connection and the in-store experience to present a true omnichannel, or channel agnostic, customer experience.
Gucci’s achievements in the digital space, millennials’ native channel, are remarkable. L2 Research, which specializes in data-driven analysis, gave its top spot for best performing digital fashion brand to Gucci in 2016 and it hangs onto that position in 2017. L2’s measure of fashion brand’s “digital competence” includes website and e-commerce, digital marketing, social media and mobile. In those key measures it outranks Michael Kors, Fendi, Burberry and Louis Vuitton, its closest digital-savvy brands.
Britton, the strategy and marketing consulting firm, in a case-study of Gucci’s rise to become one the world’s strongest fashion houses, writes, “Gucci has woven e-commerce, social media, digital marketing and the integration of mobile apps into the tapestry of its legacy offline business. As a consequence, the modern consumer’s relationship with Gucci is holistic, which has resulted in huge returns from longtime customers and new converts alike.”
But rather than attribute Gucci’s success to its industry-leading digital performance, I think it is rather a sign or marker of the brand’s success, like its financial reports. Gucci’s phenomenal performance, especially among millennials, is not caused by its digital competence, as good as it is. Rather its success is directly attributed to the dream team that is spearheading the brand’s resurgence – CEO Marco Bizzarri and creative director Alessandro Michele.
Meet Gucci’s dream team
Bizzarri took over the mantle at Gucci in December 2014, replacing Patrizio di Marco who lead the company from 2009. Di Marco’s exit prompted then creative director Frida Giannini to join him out to door. This left Bizzarri with his first big executive decision.
Michele was an unlikely choice for creative director, though he had joined the company in 2002 under Tom Ford and worked as associate designer to Giannini from 2011. Bizzarri says Michele wasn’t on his list of creative director candidates, but a chance meeting of the two sealed the deal when Bizzarri went in search of someone in the company who could school him on the process of design.
“Intuition and instinct are more important than rationality,” Bizzarri said at the WWD Summit this past October to explain his gut choice of Michele as Gucci’s next creative director. The two were completely sympatico. “We were thinking the same way – for me, it was from a business standpoint, and for him, design. It was very much about empathy. You feel like you found the right person immediately.”
Early they established clear divisions of labor and responsibilities, Bizzarri for business and Michele in creative design. It is said that Bizzarri doesn’t discuss sales or budgets with Michele, and gives him free rein to express his creativity with no boundaries. “You cannot put limits or constraints on creativity,” Bizzarri said. To that end, he has put creativity at the center of Gucci as a brand and backed it up with corporate values that foster creativity, including “respect, happiness, passion, empowerment and inclusivity.”
Redesigning Gucci for the next generation
To reinvent Guicci, the Bizzarri-Michele dream team knew they had to get rid of outmoded ideas that were holding the brand back. So out went the corporate office black-and-white pictures of past celebrities that were historically the face of the brand, like Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Instead Gucci now dresses contemporary style icons that resonate with millennials, like Rhianna, Blake Lively, Brad Pitt, Rachel McAdams and Selma Hayek, not surprising as she is wife of Kering CEO Pinault. Sir Elton John is a friend of Michele’s and was the inspiration for many fashions shown at Gucci’s spring/summer 2018 show.
And while the previous di Marco-Giannini team deemphasized the Gucci GG logo in design, Bizzarri and Michele dug into the company archives and resurrected its GG logo to feature it prominently on handbags and other accessories, as well as bringing forward the Dionysus buckle for some shoes and handbags. The results were immediate. Six out of seven of Gucci’s best-selling and high-margin accessories have been created by Michele, Bizzarri told the Julius Baer Global Advisory Board this year.
But Michele has been given room to play with the classic GG logo, a freedom hard to imagine at any other luxury brand. In an unprecedented move, Michele invited graffiti artist Trevor Andrew, aka GucciGhost, to collaborate in Gucci’s fall collection for 80 pieces. Where other luxury brands would more likely file a lawsuit against such logo tampering, Michele embraced it, which says volumes about how Bizzarri and Michele look at the world and Gucci’s evolving role in it.
Anticipating more demand for the new Gucci image, the company is adding a 35,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Italy, called the Gucci Art Lab to produce leather goods and shoes. The goal is to be more responsive to growing consumer demand, as well as to enhance capabilities for the company to source and manufacture in a sustainable fashion, including its recent ban on the use of fur in its products.
On the business side as well, Gucci boutiques are getting a makeover. So far 25% of its 550 stores have been remodeled under its “New Store Concept,” intended to marry the in-store shopping experience with its digital platform. By the end of the year 30 more stores will be overhauled, according to Kering CFO Jean-Marc Duplaix.
With the creative energy of Michele and Bizzarri’s business acumen, plus his hands off management approach to the creative side, this dream team is ready for whatever comes next for the Gucci brand. But we can be assured that whatever it is, it will be new and different and aimed squarely at the next generation customers that are the future of the Gucci brand. “Millennials tend to have an appetite for new things and they are driven by content, emotions and personal connections. They value self-expression and they value sustainability,” as Bizzarri told the Julius Baer group.