Sabato De Sarno’s Gucci Menswear Debut Had Drama in the Details


MILAN — At Gucci, it was “Ancora” ancora.

For his first menswear show at Gucci, new designer Sabato De Sarno sought to drive home the message from his women’s debut in September. He reinterpreted many of that show’s key looks for men and even employed the same lighting, stripped-down set-design and Mark Ronson-directed soundtrack, which blended Italian songstress Mina with Romy’s delicate-yet-thumping lounge hit “Loveher.”

Designers often play with time, seeking to propel audiences into the future or nostalgically invoke the past. But at a moment when Gucci is under pressure to revive excitement around its brand, the choice to transport audiences to an event that happened just four months ago stumped many in the audience.

Gucci Menswear Autumn/Winter 2024
Gucci Menswear Autumn/Winter 2024

Still, there was drama in the details: double-breasted tailoring with high collars and contrast lapels looked sharp, while ultra-long overcoats featured exaggerated shoulders and slits straight up the back. Finger gloves were matched to bags and wispy cravats were fastened with classic Gucci hardware. De Sarno seemed to be going for a deconstructed, gentle take on menswear (by contrast, the gender-fluid fashion of predecessor Alessandro Michele at times scrapped the notion of conventional masculinity altogether).

Celebrity stylists welcomed the reinforced offer of dressed-up looks with photo-ready details: “There was a lot for me to work with,” said stylist Felicity Kay, who dresses actor and Gucci ambassador Paul Mescal, among others. “You had the classic elegance but then it was subverted with the details that made it very contemporary.”

Retailers, meanwhile, focused on the outerwear and shoes. Selfridges’ fashion director Bosse Myhr noted the “nice jackets and coats, very wearable with a beautiful colour palette.” Relaxed teddys and padded leather bombers looked ready to be pulled on to run an errand and were rendered in retro shades of honey and forest green that recalled Italian furniture’s 1970s glory days (not to mention De Sarno’s “Gucci Rosso”, a seductive shade of oxblood that the brand is working to build into a signature hue). Shoes included creeper styles that put a collegiate twist on Gucci’s flagship loafers.

“From a trend perspective, the show affirmed a lot of what I’m seeing going into fall, that sense of style curated by decades,” Nordstrom men’s fashion director Jian DeLeon said. “With items like the embellished cardigans or the overcoats you could see ideas that resonate with the current ‘grandpa-core”’ aesthetic. But they were elevated with a hint of glam, coming from details like studs or shimmery finishes.”

Ultimately, De Sarno faces a tricky brief at Gucci: the creative director is under pressure to revive excitement around its designs while also reasserting the timelessness of its brand DNA. For menswear it can be an especially tough balance to strike, as it doesn’t take much to alienate conservative dressers if they think a brand’s garments might be “too much.” On the other hand, hype-chasers with more exuberant taste can be fickle beasts, easily bored and constantly jumping from brand to brand.

There’s opportunity in the middle, if the brand can get it right. While Alessandro Michele drove blockbuster success by engaging various customer niches, ranging from streetwear blokes to die-hard fashionistas, the designer’s maximalist concept often left behind less adventurous clients (including many older, wealthier, wardrobing-focused shoppers) and overshadowed the brand’s longstanding codes.

But appealing to the mainstream without seeming “mid” can be a challenge. While many of De Sarno’s products are appealing, he has yet to cultivate a clear universe around them: a chicly renovated flagship in Milan and a book of art inspirations have hinted at a desire to invoke references to Northern Italy’s prowess in contemporary art and design during the late modern and post-modern period. But are Magistretti sofas and Lucio Fontana paintings a bold or legible enough platform to engage customers at the scale of Italy’s biggest brand? Meanwhile, growth in the luxury market is now being driven by ultra-wealthy clients among whom Gucci’s standing has slipped.

Friday’s menswear show — whose celebrity guests included only a few global household names and involved little fanfare aside from the clothes — was in sharp contrast to the sprawling, cross-cultural happenings staged by top rival Louis Vuitton, where new designer Pharrell Williams took over Paris’ Pont Neuf for his debut runway show, putting on a star-studded concert and block party last June.

Nonetheless, De Sarno’s focus on coats may prove to be a savvy move: with prices rising across the luxury space, clients are drawn to the favourable price-per-wear of coats compared to other ready-to-wear categories one might wear less often. Coatmaker Moncler has remained among the industry’s fastest growing brands even as luxury demand cooled following a post-pandemic surge, with its sales in the first nine months of 2023 up 17 percent.

That’s an outcome Gucci would dream of, but markets are no longer betting on a swift turnaround. Analysts at UBS expect the brand to grow 2 percent in 2024 compared to a 6 percent average for the luxury sector. Restoring Gucci’s fashion authority and timeless luxury appeal is a tall order, and a project that is sure to take time.



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Compiled by Yola Mzizi.

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