It’s official. Gucci reigns supreme. Let the Balenciaga bashing begin! The upper echelon of the fashion world has long been a meeting place for masters of marketing, however with the latest LYST report indicating a well-dressed regicide has uncrowded Balenciaga as the king of cool, the value of controversy marketing in today’s industry may be shifting. Although Gucci is far from understated in their marketing mentality, their approach to hype generation this year has been more curated and cherrypicked compared to the drama-inducing disturbances in the status quo Balenciaga has bashfully been causing. Whether it’s the two thousand-dollar trash bag doing the rounds on social media as we speak or the worn and torn trainers that caught criticism for their excessive distressed appearance, Balenciaga’s subjugation to the second-best slot is a reminder that all press isn’t always good press no matter how hard Demna insists “everybody loves a fashion scandal”.
So how did Gucci do it? Well, a combination of new school approaches to old school tactics has allowed the fashion house to gracefully traverse the traditional channels of celebrity endorsements, brand partnerships and abstract runway shows as well as the new avenues of Meta marketing and TikTok trends with equal ease. Crucially, Gucci has appeared at the forefront of every area of cultural relevance without diminishing its brand identity, careful cultivating its reputation with surgical precision rather than creating contention for the sake of mass hysteria. In the age of digital oversaturation, Gucci made a choice to put their fate in the hands of a select few sources rather than putting their name on the tip of the tongue of anybody willing to talk. A secret collab here, a crucial celeb endorsement there and a sprinkle of creative campaigning and all of a sudden Balenciaga is beginning to fade in the rearview mirror.
THE HARRY STYLES EFFECT
What’s the most full proof way to become the hottest brand on the planet? Find yourself a dashing British front man with creative credentials and fervent fandom that could rival yours of course! The Harry Styles Effect, something I’m sure we have all experienced, is a noticeable phenomenon for Gucci that rose to prominence after they formed an ongoing relationship which saw Styles almost exclusively sporting Gucci on stage during his Harry’s House tour this year. The fast friendship between Harry and Alessandro formed the bedrock of the surprise yet seemingly inevitable collaborative collection between two icons of British pop & Italian fashion – their shared initials “HA” becoming the title of the playful ‘HA HA HA” collection. After making its mark at Milan fashion week, the ’70s-inspired partnership – brimming with signature Harry sweater vests and teddy brooches – was quickly adopted as a fan favourite as more commercialised pieces featuring lyrics from Watermelon Sugar became defacto high-end merch pieces for the Styles-Stan.
In many ways, the gladiatorial showdown between brand figureheads Harry Styles (Team Gucci) & Kanye West (Team Balenciaga) is an apt metaphor for the different styles adopted by both brands this year. As Balenciaga chose the path of self-resistance causing chaos and disruption that sometimes overshadowed their artistry, Gucci elevated with class and dignity by tying its boat to the rising tides caused by millions of crying Harry Styles fans.
This year has seen more collaborations between rivals on the LYST top 20 than ever before. While this could be an indication of an armistice in the fashion world and the start of a new era of Avengers-style creative collaboration with art at its epicentre, it is more likely that these partnerships are a continuation of cross-over culture designed to cause a social media frenzy rather than objectively create the coolest collections imaginable. Nonetheless, Gucci certainly mastered this motif this year when they announced and unveiled the Adidas x Gucci collection – a true ode to maximalist nostalgia.
Retro sportswear provided the perfect crossroads for the two brands’ ethos to meet, once again fusing sportswear and high fashion seamlessly without creating a collection riddled with obvious elements and easy objectives. Most importantly, the accessible nature of the design concepts, kept the collection grounded in real-life wearability that allowed fans to daydream of buying pieces and seeing those dreams come to fruition.
In May of this year, Gucci took to the rolling rural hills of South East Italy to transform a remote 13th-century castle into a centre of astrological opulence and Volturi heritage. The star-crossed collection on show that day was a historic homage to illusion and mythology, building on the velvet gowns, pearls and heavy embroidery of antiquity by forging Gucci-fied takes on classic imagery of knights in silver armour and nuns in high-necked gowns. The bold move to pick such a stark theme ran the risk of coming off a tad pantomime, however, the attention to detail and relentless willingness to world build ultimately resulted in a Resort Show that grabbed attention as if it was the final night at Paris Fashion Week. Not to mention, the fairytale aesthetic overlapped perfectly with the witch, pagan & crystal subgenres of TikTok that have dominated Gen-z circles over the last year.
GUCCI MEET META, META MEET GUCCI
Perhaps Gucci’s crowning achievement this year has been its dominance in adapting to the new Web 3 world and method of marketing. Whilst other brands were busily figuing out what an NFT is, Gucci was buying and building virtual real estate in the Metaverse and formulating the future of the brand to seamlessly integrate into what they predict will be the new town noticeboard for creative ingenuity and collaboration. In the aftermath of Milan fashion week in 2021, Gucci launched The Vault in partnership with SuperRare to create an experimental and interactive archive that they describe as “a time machine, an archive, a library, a laboratory, and a meeting place.” What started as a quick fix solution to the lack of shows happening as a result of the Covid lockdown quickly became industry-leading assimilation of brand identity with a new marketplace with untapped potential.
The Vault included a virtual showroom of “Mutant Relics” highlighting iconic conceptions from the first century of Gucci’s creative journey. Secondly, the “Conversations” space acts as a showcase of up & coming designers from around the globe, offering an unparalleled opportunity for creatives to tap into the Gucci mainframe and have their work seen by a massive audience. When asked about the importance of The Vault in global fashion, Alessandro Michele commented, “This platform, this playground is showing how relevant the idea is, especially in fashion, that the past, the present, and the new generation of designers are all together.”
KING OF COLLABS
Beyond the allure of the three stripes of Adidas, Gucci gifted a lot of smaller yet no less creatively engaging brands an opportunity to shine on a global stage whilst allowing both brands to fill their pales with cultural currency. Superplastic, the home of digital collectables and one-of-a-kind figurines, emerged as the most refreshingly unexpected crossover of the season, once again adding to Gucci’s gilded reputation as a brand that is willing to test new waters, enter new environments, and experiment with childlike wonder.
Overall, Gucci has long guided the fashion industry across unknown terrain, poking and prodding at unproven ideas to see if experimentation will ultimately lead to elevation. Wisely, it seems as if Gucci has noticed a shift in social appetite for outrage and has instead left the antics to Balenciaga whilst they focus on their original mission statement of crafting timeless creations and discerning diamond-in-the-ruff talents wherever they may dwell. A new king has been crowned today, long may he reign!
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