Alessandro Michele has stepped down as Gucci's creative director after almost eight years, a period that saw him help revive and transform the Italian label's fortunes. Announcing the decision Wednesday, the luxury house's parent company, Kering, said the 49-year-old designer had "played a fundamental part in making the brand what it is today."
The conglomerate's chairman and CEO, François-Henri Pinault, added in a statement: "The road that Gucci and Alessandro walked together over the past years is unique and will remain as an outstanding moment in the history of the House... His passion, his imagination, his ingenuity and his culture put Gucci center stage, where its place is." Having joined Gucci as a handbag designer, and with no experience helming a major label, Michele was a surprise appointment to the top job in 2015. But with the brand's relevance seemingly in decline, he instigated a major overhaul of its identity, eschewing the overtly sexy aesthetic pioneered by predecessor Tom Ford in favor of a more whimsical aesthetic dubbed "geek chic."
Michele then ushered in an era of colorful, maximalist designs, reimaginging Renaissance art through fashion and hosting elaborate runway shows at historic venues. He embraced the opulent heritage of a brand that last year celebrated its centenary, even naming one of his best-known designs — the Dionysus handbag — after the Greek god of wine.
His genderfluid collections also increasingly blurred the distinction between the label's menswear and womenswear lines, while savvy collaborations with the likes of Adidas and The North Face helped give the label mass market appeal. Named among Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2017, Michele courted celebrities and appointed the likes of Harry Styles and Billie Eilish as brand ambassadors. At the star-studded Met Gala in May this year, he and actor Jared Leto showed up together on the red carpet in matching Gucci suits.
Revenue surged during Michele's time at the helm. Kering owns several other major brands, including Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta and Saint Laurent, but Gucci now generates more than all of them combined, reportedly making 9.7 billion euros ($10.1 billion) for the company last year. But Michele's tenure was not without controversy. In 2019, he sent models down a Milan runway in white straightjackets, sparking a protest from one of them, Ayesha Tan Jones, who held up a note written on her palms reading: "Mental health is not fashion."
That same year, the label was forced to apologize for selling a sweater criticized for resembling blackface, while a $790 turban attracted accusations of cultural appropriation. The label had also struggled to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic as nimbly as some of its competitors — especially in China, which is now estimated to account for about a third of Gucci's sales.
Michele, who joined Gucci in 2002, said in a statement on Wednesday: "There are times when paths part ways because of the different perspectives each one of us may have. Today an extraordinary journey ends for me, lasting more than twenty years, within a company to which I have tirelessly dedicated all my love and creative passion. "During this long period Gucci has been my home, my adopted family," he said, adding: "Together with them I have wished, dreamed, imagined." Michele's replacement has yet to be unveiled, with Kering suggesting that more change may lie ahead. The conglomerate's press release said that Gucci's design office will steer the brand's output until a "new creative organization" is announced.