Gucci's evolution from aspirational label to inspirational brand
The Covid-19 pandemic has further accelerated the speed at which luxury labels are evolving, as illustrated in a recent study by Bain & Company. Luxe labels have intensified their communication initiatives to stay connected with their communities and engage with customers despite the lockdowns and, while previously product-centric, they have now undertaken the mission of amplifying signals and messages relating to multiple societal issues. Like for example Gucci, the Kering group's leading label, whose latest initiatives reflect a commitment to diversity and an effort to lessen fashion’s environmental impact.
“In the absence of physical fashion weeks and with the dilation of time caused by lockdowns, we are seeing luxury labels flood social media with empathetic messages. They have developed a remarkable ability to interact with their communities, going beyond mere products and talking about values. It is a shift that reflects current market expectations. Consumers attribute a value to luxury articles based not simply on the products themselves, but also on the set of values that are attached to them. They expect labels to excel in everything, and to engage in a degree of activism too, constantly broadening the scope of the content they provide,” said Claudia D’Arpizio, partner at Bain & Co., at the recent meeting of Altagamma, the association of Italy’s luxury companies.
“A number of major trends have emerged on the market, from an increasingly powerful demand for personalisation to an emphasis on themes like nature, health and humanistic culture, not to mention the rising influence of sustainable development and diversity, and luxury labels need to incorporate all of them in their model. Labels must contribute actively to shaping the future, relying not only on their heritage in terms of assets and quality, but also assuming the role of inspirational source and cultural engine of the future, to fashion a better world,” added D’Arpizio.
Multiple artistic statements
Gucci has understood this well, as shown by its latest project, GucciFest, a radical break from the traditional catwalk show model. It is an unprecedented way of presenting the label's new collection, one that is perfectly aligned with this “cultural engine role” invoked by a constantly evolving market. GucciFest isn’t a mere video or digital performance, but a much more articulated event. A sort of week-long digital fashion festival featuring, besides a video presentation of the collection, filmed by director Gus Van Sant with Gucci's Creative Director Alessandro Michele, plenty of other content, like collections and clips of emerging young designers, or profiles of and statements by the video’s participants and characters.
The latter all hail from the world of art, and seem to have been chosen both to illuminate and inspire Gucci aficionados, and to broaden the label’s audience. Among them, London singer and poet Arlo Parks, German choreographer and dancer Sasha Waltz, shown training religiously, Spanish philosopher Paul B. Preciado, theorising the suppression of the distinction between sexes, genders and sexual orientation, and Italian art critic Achille Bonito Oliva, who expounds a vision straddling fashion and art. “Fashion outfits humankind, art bares it, and music acts as message,” says Oliva in a video, talking to pop star Harry Styles.
Gucci’s film breathes life into the collection’s garments, visibly worn by all the various characters and set in the kind of wacky, fantastic environment beloved by Michele, peppered with references to fashion, cinema and music, the Italian designer's creative milieu. The film also broadcasts a decidedly international image of Gucci by using multiple languages, portraying the label as both global and local - the action takes place in Rome - while emphasising the values of diversity and inclusivity promoted by Gucci. As shown by the choice of lead character, androgynous actress Silvia Calderoni, well-known for her commitment to transgender issues.
Diversity-wise, Gucci undertook a variety of actions after it was accused of racism and colonial nostalgia, for designing a black sweater with a blackface motif. At the start of 2019, Gucci launched the Changemakers programme, endowed with funding for over $10 million. The programme was set up to boost Gucci's CSR engagement, while also promoting long-term diversity and inclusion.
Commitment to diversity
Fostering the values of equality and inclusivity has become a group-wide commitment for Gucci, and an essential element of the image broadcast by the label on social media, via its campaigns and collection presentations. As demonstrated by GucciFest, and by the latest campaign for the Gucci Beauty make-up line, entitled ‘unconventional beauty’, and featuring among others British model Ellie Goldstein, who is affected by Down’s syndrome, and queer model Enam Asiama, with her unconventional appeal.
Another example was the creation of Gucci MX in summer. In this section of the label's website, entirely dedicated to non-binary fashion, Gucci once again celebrates diversity and “emphasises the dissolving lines of the gender divide in the name of self-expression (...) presenting masculinity and femininity as relative concepts.” Gucci MX notably features a selection of clothes and accessories designed to appeal to both men and women, beyond gender. In summer, Michele decided to put Gucci employees centre-stage, transforming them into models for a day when he lensed the label's latest campaign.
Choices that are consistent with the unique, highly recognisable aesthetic adopted by Gucci after 2015 thanks to Michele who, alongside CEO Marco Bizzarri, has engineered the label’s comprehensive mutation. In parallel, Gucci has acted decisively on the environmental front, and in September it announced it has become carbon-neutral. It has also launched a sustainable collection and worked on reducing its packaging’s environmental impact. All these elements mean that Gucci, with its engagement, its actions and embracing of diversity, its holistic brand communications centred around values and fashion design, has acquired renewed credibility with consumers, even more so during the pandemic.
Matteo Lunelli, president of Altagamma, echoed this at last week's meeting: “The pandemic has accelerated ongoing change. Personal identity and well-being are now priority issues, as much as the attention paid to product quality and authentic values, through a more restrained, sustainable approach to consumption. Ethics are becoming as important as aesthetics.”
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