INTERVIEWS - 20 April 2016 - by Zara Hoffman
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Gucci CEO: China's luxury consumers aren't "ashamed" to wear logos

Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri speaks at the New York Times International Luxury Conference, which took place in Versailles on April 5 and 6, 2016. (Courtesy Photo)

Reports of the logo’s death in China are greatly exaggerated.

The man with the authority to comment is Marco Bizzarri, chief executive of Gucci, a brand where intertwined GG’s have been a cornerstone of its offerings for 95 years.

Bizzarri, a keynote speaker at the recent New York Times International Luxury Conference held on April 5 and 6, led the opening day’s hot topic, “Is the Logo Really Over?”

He views “logo fatigue” as worthy of a lively conversation, but he cannot agree the logo warrants an obituary.

“It’s integral to a brand; it’s to be treated in a contemporary way, since ‘timeless’ does not mean ‘stuck in time,’” he said. “For Gucci, the Gs are like hieroglyphics, they should be arbitrary but appropriate.”

Bizzarri proved Chinese chatter about the logo’s tipping point is out of step, for Gucci at least. “The Chinese are buying back into Gucci after many months of decline. No one is ashamed to show a GG belt.” That issue, it seems, is confined to Prada and Louis Vuitton.

Towering (he’s 6’5”) over his audience at the Trianon Palace at Versailles, Bizzarri’s opinions are nothing less than gold standard, since he is the custodian of a brand enjoying a rapid-fire renaissance.

When he took the helm at Gucci in January 2015, the mega-brand in François and François-Henri Pinault’s Kering group had endured declining revenues for two consecutive years (US$3.8 billion in 2014).

Just 16 months later, 53-year-old Bizzarri can talk of a “€4 billion brand” (it was worth €3.5 billion when he took over) and gleefully boast “500,000 new customers.” That turnaround has catapulted Gucci to resonate once again with consumers enamored with bold—and bolder logos on belts and handbags. For summer 2016, the word “Gucci” is unashamedly embossed on a black-on-black handbag and the iconic red and green stripe will make a fresh bid for attention.

This Midas touch makes Bizzarri the poster boy for luxury titans. He shared Gucci’s tale of transformation willingly—offering firm opinions on everything from his management style to designer egos, social media, and the ubiquitous logo. “You play with it. You look to the future by re-defining the past.”

As Bizzarri tells it, the moment he walked the hallowed corridors of Gucci’s HQ, he saw walls covered in images of the company’s historic past. “I took a position. ‘Get rid of them,’ I told my people. They talked too much about craftsmanship and quality. Those are a given for Gucci.”

He may have frightened the horses with this immediate gesture, and seeing he had 11,000 people to communicate a story of change to, he asked to see the design team, to reassure them about the future. That future included appointing a new design director to replace Frida Giannini.

One of those sent to him by HR was Alessandro Michele, who joined the company in 2002 and was the associate creative director for accessories.

“We were to have a coffee,” said Bizzarri. “Alessandro was so nice, so humble, so relaxed. Four hours later we were deep in discussion. He had been hired by Tom Ford, and I puzzled how he could be in the company for more than 12 years and have a completely different opinion of what it should be, and what it was. I called (François-Henri Pinault) and said, ‘I think we have the right guy.’” Bizzarri had found the design director within the company.

“I was wiling to take a risk. I saw Alessandro’s ambition to re-create the dream and the emotion.” Then Bizzarri made a remark that won resounding applause, “We need a new morality in fashion. People with a big ego should disappear.”

Bizzarri asked Michele if he could deliver a men’s collection in five days. He did. The women’s collection followed one month later. The hiking sales figures that resulted showed up most recently in Gucci’s fourth-quarter revenue, reaching €1.1 billion, 4.8 per cent higher than the same quarter in 2014 when Frida Giannini was design director.

Despite the massive pressure on Michele to deliver that first collection in less than a week, Bizzarri is mindful of the unrelenting demands on designers and the need for a work-life balance. To than end he chose the New York Times conference to announce that in future Gucci would present both men’s and women’s fashion in a single presentation, to be held in the new Milan headquarters, in via Mecenate. He said the move would  significantly help to simplify aspects of the business and most importantly allow time to foster creativity.

Gucci’s rising sales, and Michele’s reputation as the new design director were initially cemented by electrifying comments online by young KOLs (key opinion leaders) and bloggers. Establishment journalists were tepid in their first reviews.

Bizzarri defers to their clout. “There was a speed of acceptance, through social media. It was rapid. Social media helped us communicate our message faster.”

As a fellow panelist, Andrew Keith, who is President of Lane Crawford remarked, “Brands who use social media to create emotional content for consumers connect with success. Every consumer wants to feel a personal relationship with the brand.”

Keith, whose company reaches young, hip Chinese clients, said Lane Crawford responds with immediacy to their ever-increasing use of technology.

“Their knowledge of the brand is sophisticated. When they arrive in the store, our challenge is to meet that level of knowledge and offer an elevated level of service with the use of technology. Our style advisors are equipped with tablets, with information across all products, that is updated daily, including information on new arrivals.” 

Now that Bizzarri has reignited a desire for Gucci, his ongoing challenge is to further engage the new consumer—the millennials.

Maureen Chiquet, the global CEO of Chanel until January this year, earlier defined their behavior as, “a desire for authenticity, collaboration, contribution and participation.”

“In the new world you cannot control the consumer,” said Maurice Lévy, the legendary CEO of Publicis Group, the world’s third-largest advertising conglomerate.

“I spent my life creating dreams, when people bought a product they bought a dream. But in the new world, you have to have a continuous conversation with the consumer. There is a sea change in the way we interact with people in the co-creation of brands. The consumers are in control.”

It can’t be bad that Gucci speaks to 8.1 million followers on Instagram.

 

Susan Owens is the founder and editor of Paris Chérie, a Paris-based fashion website dedicated to bringing French style news to Chinese readers.

 

Zara Hoffman is the Associate Publisher at Jing Daily, a leading digital publication on luxury consumer trends in China. Jing Daily publishes up-to-the-minute news updates, reports on key trends, insights from leading industry figures, and in-depth analysis on this vitally important market.