Alessandro Michele Announced as New Creative Director of Valentino

​Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s ousted whiz kid, returns from the feud as the new creative director of Valentino.

The fashion world’s been spinning recently, as designers for some of the world’s major luxury labels engage in an extended game of musical chairs. But this week, the tables turned when former Gucci designer Alessandro Michele was announced as the new creative director of Valentino, days after its designer of over two decades, the much-lauded Pierpaolo Piccioli, stepped down.

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In the two years since Gucci unceremoniously dumped Michele, there’s been rampant speculation about where the 51-year-old designer would land next – Fendi? Zegna? Banana Republic? (The latter recently made headlines after hiring another design star​, ​Zac Posen, to head up its creative team).

Michele honed his penchant for idiosyncratic looks while working for Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi and for Tom Ford at Gucci. When Ford departed to head his own label, Gucci installed his ambitious young protégé to the top job in 2015. Over the next two years, thanks to Michele, sales at Gucci ballooned by 50 percent, the highest in 20 years.

Michele was a favorite of Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, Jared Leto and Jessica Chastain. His 2021 star-packed Gucci blockbuster on Hollywood Boulevard made headlines across the globe. So why would Gucci let him go? Michele’s trademark brand of surrealist maximalism — a rare combo of nostalgic and futuristic flourishes — was still selling well. But, apparently, the brand’s fortunes were not accelerating fast enough for Kering, Gucci’s parent company. In the always-raging fashion battle between creativity and the bottom line, Rome-based Michele always sided with the former, often to Kering’s dismay.

Now Michele might have the last laugh. Working as creative director of Valentino is one of the most prestigious jobs in fashion: They didn’t call founder Valentino Garavani the “last emperor” for nothing. After his retirement in 2008 after 48 years, founder Valentino was successfully succeeded by two of his former acolytes, Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chuiri, who subsequently decamped to Dior.

Piccioli continued solely in 2016, reinventing Valentino’s tradition of bold colors: its signature red and then ushering in the age of fuchsia in 2022 (and you thought it was Barbie). He glammed up unfussy stars Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Frances McDormand for the red carpet, then dressed the likes of Zendaya and Florence Pugh in fairytale fashions.

Valentino doesn’t come close to Gucci’s mass sales. In a typical year, it brings in 10 times more than Valentino’s annual billion-dollar revenues. Valentino is tailored to a more specific customer: first ladies, aristocrats, royals and mega movie stars, drawn by its standout black tie and couture eveningwear, as well as its famed “rock stud” accessories. Sabato De Sarno, who replaced Michele as Gucci’s new-era minimalist designer, still has a lot to prove — though his initial looks on Taylor Swift and Lily Gladstone were the talk of the fashion world this season.

Still, you have to wonder what Kering’s billionaire CEO Francois-Henri Pinault (he owns Gucci, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney) thinks of Michele’s boomerang back to relevance — particularly after Kering acquired a healthy 30 percent chunk of Valentino last year.  (Nothing like falling upward to infuriate ex-employers.)

What does Michele’s re-emergence say about the state of 2023’s inescapable  “quiet luxury” trend, immortalized by HBO’s hit Succession? Is Michele’s decidedly noisy brand of maximalism — wild color combos, mixed patterns and fabrics, embellishment, often paired with goofy glasses — already back from the dead? (Wow – that was quick!) Fashion trends have always swung every couple years, but they’re especially frenetic in the social media age.

After several seasons of luxe minimalism, recent fall 2024 collections spawned ubiquitous headlines heralding the return of Boho chic. A decade of increased sales of luxury clothes and accessories is starting to slow; brands feel they have to give shoppers something new to crave every season.

Days into his reign as Valentino’s czar, the fashion rumor mill is already churning with speculation about where the youngish designer will land next. Might he succeed the controversial Demna at Balenciaga, or move to designer-less Givenchy? Of course, it’s too soon to speculate, but the buzz in fashion circles is already underway. If all goes well, he may even be the handpicked successor to the reigning master of Milan, 89-year-old Giorgio Armani.

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