Joy And Wonder: What Alessandro’s Arrival Means For Valentino

Photographed by François Halard, Vogue, December 2023.

The news that Alessandro Michele is taking the helm of Valentino means that the shock departure of Pierpaolo Piccioli mere days ago was not such a shock to brand insiders. Creative directorships take months to line up – not least because of gardening leaves and non-compete clauses – which suggests former Gucci designer Michele has been quietly waiting in the wings for some time.

The appointment makes sense. Valentino is a sprawling Italian house creating in almost every fashion category. It has two trademarked Pantones (Rosso after founder Valentino Garavani’s enduring love of red and PP, a happy-making nod to Piccioli’s zest for life). It isn’t just anyone who can conjure up a viral shade as well as churning out It-bags and It-shoes (farewell Rockstud!), scoring thoughtful and money-making celebrity ambassadorships, overseeing beauty and supervising the superlative bridal suite, all the while making an indelible mark on the landscape of fashion. Michele has experience in all of this, thanks to a complete overhaul of Gucci in 2015, and surely has his sights set on the couture arm of his new Italian house.

So what can we expect? Michele is a dreamer. He thrives off mythology, history and fairytales. His language is littered with folklore. He imagines models walking down the runway with decapitated heads. He manages to operate on a higher plane of mystery and simultaneously be best friends with Dakota Johnson. He is obsessed with twins and boy, is he good at accessories. Crafting a world is his forte and, most importantly, Michele has had 14 months to think about what he might like to funnel his sprawling inspirations into.

His statement – and the repetition of the word “joy” in the full speech – suggests that he is going to lean deep into the romance at the heart of the house when he takes up his post on 2 April. “My first thought goes to this story: to the richness of its cultural and symbolic heritage, to the sense of wonder it constantly generates, to the very precious identity given with their wildest love by founding fathers, Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti,” said Michele, praising the brand’s “distinctive elegance, refinement and extreme grace”.

When Alessandro was appointed head of Gucci, Kering did not release a statement from the man himself because, at the time, Michele was a relatively unknown accessories designer who had risen the ranks through Frida Giannini. After he exited the brand with few prior industry rumblings, François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of Kering, said: “His passion, his imagination, his ingenuity and his culture put Gucci centre stage, where its place is.” Few thought Michele would return to the conglomerate that had ejected him from its inner circle after turning Gucci’s fortunes around (revenues tripled during his tenure), but against the backdrop of a shaky retail landscape, Pinault will be hoping Michele casts the same Midas touch on Valentino.

The move comes at a juncture in the industry that finds fashion… well, somewhat lost. After the high-street started crumbling, the digital sphere has taken a serious hit too. Matches Fashion, a beloved and family-rooted luxury behemoth that was always ahead of the curve with its buys, perished under the acquisition of Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group (God save our Raey), and profit reports across the board are not positive in the wake of a recession. Creative directors are resigning – or being ousted depending what you read – left, right and centre, with vacancies currently at Givenchy, Blumarine and Dries Van Noten. When the latter quiet yet colourful fashion messiah stepped down from his own brand on 19 March, editors were beside themselves. One Vogue staffer asked for privacy “at this difficult time”.

Michele’s comeback raises hope for a reset. The world is in dire need of some whimsy and that is Alessandro’s calling card. When he unveiled his groundbreaking Gucci debut almost a decade ago, Vogue’s Nicole Phelps commented that “after a period of polished minimalism and the plainness of normcore, Michele’s celebration of rule-breaking, individual style is resonating.” Sit tight, escapism – and fun handbags – are coming.

This article was originally published on British Vogue.

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