Opinion: The risks and rewards for Valentino under Alessandro Michele

    The new creative director appointment could redefine luxury fashion in the 21st century. But success hinges on marrying Michele’s creative vision and Valentino’s core values.
    Photo by Fabio Lovino
      Published   in Fashion

    Just a week after the departure of Pierpaolo Piccioli as its creative director after more than 25 years, Italian fashion houseValentino announced that Alessandro Michele would take over the role.

    Michele needs no introduction. He is a creative visionary whose tenure at Gucci made the brand relevant again and redefined what modern luxury could mean. Before he left Gucci, his fame was comparable to that of Gucci itself, and his creative style made Gucci a trailblazer with remarkable commercial success for a large part of his tenure.

    The strategic move to appoint Michele, as intriguing as it is daring, has sent ripples across the fashion world, offering a new opportunity for Michele’s distinct creative genius. In a statement cited by the Financial Times, Michele stated: “It’s an incredible honor for me to be welcomed at Maison Valentino. I feel the immense joy and the huge responsibility to join a Maison de Couture that has the word ‘beauty’ carved on [its] collective story.”

    However, amid the anticipation lies a critical challenge: the alignment of Valentino’s brand values and brand storytelling with Michele’s vision. It’s a balance upon which the future of Valentino’s brand equity delicately rests. Recent history is full of examples of newly hired creative directors bringing a fresh vision and their followers to fashion brands only to be met with underwhelming results, to put it mildly.

    How Gucci went from bold to uninspiring#

    A case in point is Gucci. Michele’s Gucci was a story of boldness, eccentric rebellion, freedom, and liberation (similar to its era under Tom Ford, just with a completely different execution). Everything the brand did was inspired by its brand story. The brand that Michele left in November 2022 severed all ties with its recent past when it appointed Sabato de Sarno as creative director, who joined Gucci from Valentino.

    Gucci’s Fall 2022 “Exquisite” campaign. Photo: Gucci
    Gucci’s Fall 2022 “Exquisite” campaign. Photo: Gucci

    Today, the Gucci story is clearly product-focused, with a ton of celebrity endorsements. There is a lack of emotion and brand storytelling. In a recent audit of several fashion brands at Pepperdine University, a panel of Gen Z and millennials found the current Gucci direction boring, lackluster, and without any inspiration.

    The panel felt that storytelling went from exciting, bold, inspiring, and “relevant to me” to “feels old” and “feels like a different brand.” Their point of view is in line with client behavior, as Kering recently announced an unusually stark profit warning indicating a significant decline of its most important brand in Q1 2024.

    Creative director Sabato De Sarno’s debut Gucci collection for Spring 2024. Photo: Gucci
    Creative director Sabato De Sarno’s debut Gucci collection for Spring 2024. Photo: Gucci

    When brands give more power to the creative execution than to the underlying brand story — or worse, when the brand story no longer comes across at all — then value is destroyed. And luxury lives largely on its intrinsic value. The products are critical, but they only have value if they are the expression of a story. That’s what creates desire.

    Gucci under Michele and former CEO Marco Bizzarri was not only known for gender-fluid, eccentric, and theatrical executions but also for a consistent, inspiring, and unapologetic narrative of freedom of expression and liberation. Their Gucci was loud and bold; today’s Gucci feels muted and exchangeable.

    A brand should never have two stories. Core values should never change because they are what people buy into. When the creative direction changes, the expression can change, but not the underlying values and stories.

    Valentino’s success requires more than aesthetic reinvention#

    Considering these core values will now be essential for Michele as he takes the creative leadership at Valentino. Valentino is synonymous with elegance, sophistication, and a timeless allure but these elements are not enough to define a brand story. It is critical to have full clarity of the role of the brand in the life of its clients.

    If Gucci is, fundamentally, about inspiring freedom and liberation, then what should Valentino be inspiring? It will be important to have a crystal-clear brand strategy playbook to prevent the brand from losing clarity in its story when it will be undoubtedly invigorated with the design genius of Michele.

    The task at hand goes beyond aesthetic reinvention. The critical success factor will be strategic brand alignment. It underscores the necessity of a symbiotic relationship where Michele’s creative vision and Valentino’s core values create a symbiotic bond to form a narrative that resonates with both longstanding brand lovers and a new generation of luxury consumers.

    In this era of rapid change and hyper-competition, the concept of brand equity and brand clarity has never been more critical. In practically every brand audit, I find countless examples of brands that are declining because they cannot bring their brand stories across in strategy and execution. The result? Limited desirability.

    For Valentino, the essence of its brand lies beyond its logo, awareness, or iconic pieces. It resides in the emotional resonance and aspirational values of its brand story. As Michele steps into this new role, the challenge will be to navigate the fine line between innovating and maintaining tradition, ensuring that his bold creative impulses strengthen rather than overshadow Valentino’s history.

    Moreover, in a landscape increasingly defined by the pursuit of sustainability, diversity, and inclusivity, Valentino’s brand values under Michele’s leadership must reflect a deeper commitment to these critical factors. Gen Z demands not only aesthetic innovation but ethical considerations and authenticity in brand storytelling. Michele, with his track record of embracing such themes, is well-positioned to lead Valentino in this direction, provided there is a clear framework of values guiding these efforts.

    Gen Z demands not only aesthetic innovation but ethical considerations and authenticity in brand storytelling.

    The collaboration between Valentino and Alessandro Michele presents a formidable opportunity to redefine luxury fashion in the 21st century. The success of this partnership hinges on a shared vision that aligns Michele’s creative genius with Valentino’s brand essence.

    By clearly defining these brand values and ensuring they permeate every aspect of the brand’s expression, Valentino can navigate this transition with success, preserving its legacy while embracing a future of boundless creative possibilities.

    This is an opinion piece by Daniel Langer, CEO of Équité, recognized as one of the “Global Top Five Luxury Key Opinion Leaders to Watch.” He serves as an executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu and as a professor of luxury at NYU, New York. Daniel has authored best-selling books on luxury management in English and Chinese, and is a respected global keynote speaker.

    Daniel conducts masterclasses on various luxury topics across the world. As a luxury expert featured on Bloomberg TV, Forbes, The Economist, and others; Daniel holds an MBA and a Ph.D. in luxury management, and has received education from Harvard Business School. Follow him: LinkedIn and Instagram.

    All opinions expressed in the column are his own and do not reflect the official position of Jing Daily.

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