Well, from the outside, at least, this is somewhat unexpected news.
Gucci creative director Frida Giannini is leaving the celebrated Italian brand after she shows the label's Fall 2015 collections. She will be accompanied in her departure by Gucci's CEO Patrizio di Marco who is also her partner in life and with whom she shares a daughter.
Giannini can be credited with stabilizing the Gucci brand after the departure of Tom Ford who was in great part responsible for revitalizing the formerly moribund label and catapulting it into fadhion's forefront during the 1990s. Originally tapped as the label's creative director for accessories, she was part of a triumvirate of designers along with Alesssandra Facchinetti for women's apparel and John Ray for men's who were meant to design for the brand. The scheme appeared to be created to send a message to Ford, who had become a superstar himself through his re-imagining of Gucci, that the brand was bigger than any single creative director working for it.
Well, the plan didn't work, and after a few collections of fragmented brand image, Giannini eventually assumed design control of all Gucci product lines and began to implement her direction including new store designs, forging her own relationships with celebrities and starring in The Director, a documentary about her life and work that came out last year.
So now that she is well settled in and things seem to be running smoothly, why are she and di Marco up and leaving or being asked to move on? Fashion is cyclical, and while business is challenging in the burgeoning Chinese market at the moment, it is also up in key markets like the U.S. —still the world's largest luxury market. Gucci is certainly not experieincing the kind of decline that would cause the team to be fired, but flat performance may seem almost as bad to Gucci's less forgiving corporate owners, especially when smaller less fully expanded brands like Bottega Veneta and Yves Saint Laurent are growing at a faster rate. Giannini and di Marco are not talking about future plans, and probably won't until well after the Fall collections are shown, but their leaving as a team sends speculation that their futures may lie in their own venture. Despite possible dissatisfaction in them from an unforgiving employer, Gianini is now of a stature that would qualify her to start her own label if she so chooses.
The question they leave, aside from who will replace Giannini (diMarco's successor, Marco Bizzarri, chief executive of parent company Kering's luxury couture and leather goods division, has already been named), is can a designer still maintain a long term tenure with a luxury brand that he or she does not own or share a name with? Is Karl Lagerfeld, who has had a decades-long stint at Chanel and an even longer, concurrent one at Fendi, now the anomaly rather than the role model? Fashion's revolving door of designers seems to be spinning at an ever more rapid pace as seemingly solid partnerships like Nicolas Ghesquiere's at Balenciaga seem to dissolve ever more frequently with little advance notice. Is any designer secure at any brand if they don't own it themselves? The expected names of up-and-coming young designers are already being bandied about. Joseph Altuzarra is mentioned in WWD's coverage and already enjoys some backing from Kering. Another name speculators turn to is Riccardo Tisci, who has successfully revamped Givenchy and has been influential in both men's and women's fashion design as well as garnered a strong celebrity and retail following. He is about to unveil a new showplace for the brand on Madison Avenue as his profile has steadily been rising in recent years. Now that he has achieved critical and commercial success at Givenchy is he now ready to jump ship? Will Kering and Givenchy parent LVMH battle over Tisci's contract, re-igniting a longtime Pinault vs. Arnault rivalry between the two luxury conglomerates? Maybe Kering has its eyes focused on someone else entirely. It's worth noting that Gianini was an unknown designer when she assumed her big job only about ten years ago. Perhaps Gucci will find an in-house successor and avoid the kind of job jumping industry ripple effects that just happened when Peter Copping left Nina Ricci for Oscar de la Renta. After all, Gucci's track record seems to be in creating design stars rather than importing them from other brands. There's bound to be more coming from this story, so stay tuned.