You don’t need to speak much Italian to know the word Gucci. For 100 years, the brand with its double G logo has been synonymous with opulence, understated luxury and over-the-top prices.
Tonight, we’re going to introduce you to Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director. In the seven years since he took the job – he’s blown the doors off the legendary fashion house. Michele swapped out Gucci’s signature sophistication for something he calls “beautiful strangeness” and tripled sales in the process.
For one night last month, Gucci cleared Hollywood’s walk of fame of tourists and transients and replaced them with a spectacle that suits what Gucci has become: a product of Alessandro Michele’s imagination, in which too much is never enough.
Alessandro Michele: It’s about things that shine. And it’s about the things, you know, that scream.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Some of the clothes really scream, right? (LAUGH)
Alessandro Michele: Sometimes.
Sharyn Alfonsi: I don’t feel like you could be a shy person and pull some of those looks off.
Alessandro Michele: I think that fashion is to let the people hear your voice in a way you know.
Michele’s voice is a little out of tune – by design. Some of his looks seem ripped from the back of grandmother’s couch. Others from the dressing room of a Reno cabaret. Is it androgeny chic or crusader couture? It’s impossible to define.
In the weeks leading up to the Hollywood show, we watched Michele fussing over the finishing touches. Adding the perfect bag, coat or this – some kind of ski mask for a cyclops.
Sharyn Alfonsi: When we were watching you with the models you would say, “Bella,” if you liked something. (LAUGH) And then if you were really happy you said, “Stupendo.” (LAUGH) What’s the difference? How do you go from “bella” to “stupendo”?
Alessandro Michele: Bello is– that it’s working. Stupendo, it means that it’s mesmerize you. It’s– it’s something that look fabulous, you know?
Sharyn Alfonsi: Do you feel it?
Alessandro Michele: You feel it. We feel it both, you know? Not just me the model, and the people. It’s– it’s mysterious. But when you got the look, you got it.
Sharyn Alfonsi: And if you don’t have it?
Alessandro Michele: You must change in a very quick way.
But Alessandro Michele’s inspiration comes slowly – usually on a daily stroll through his neighborhood in Rome. Italians call it the Passeggiata. And it’s as much about seeing as being seen.
Alessandro Michele: It’s always like this that I walk in the same place for you know a million times. And every time I find something that I didn’t notice before.
We went with Michele to his favorite place for inspiration, the Piazza Navonna… a masterpiece of Baroque architecture.
Alessandro Michele: Everything is so cinematic. Look at this. It’s like there is hugging you. You know? Look at the shape of the church. It’s like spectacular.
He has an encyclopedic knowledge of Rome’s history and architecture and never tires of it’s scenery, whether it’s the fountains sculpted by Bernini or fanny packs and flip flops worn by passersby.
Sharyn Alfonsi: So when you see a tourist walking around with something awful on, you’re like, “Yes.”
Alessandro Michele: I always take a picture.
Sharyn Alfonsi: You do? (LAUGH)
Alessandro Michele: I have a lot of picture of crazy people in the street, you know, that I go crazy. I mean it’s really interesting, you know? It’s– (LAUGH)
Michele walks to work from his apartment in Rome to a 600-year-old palazzo. It’s believed to have been designed by the Renaissance master Raphael. The marble hallways, lined with rows of Gucci garments and accessories, is a playground for the 49-year-old.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Some of the people we spoke to here say that you’re involved in every detail.
Alessandro Michele: Yeah, yeah, a lot. That’s a disease I think.
He’s also a compulsive collector. We spoke in his office which is filled with ancient art and modern kitsch and he has four storage units jammed with more stuff.
Sharyn Alfonsi: What’s the Italian word for hoarder or pack rat?
Alessandro Michele: Ah – cumulatore!
Sharyn Alfonsi: Cumulatore sounds better than pack rat.
Alessandro Michele: –means that you put, you know, things in your– yeah, it’s– I think that is the disease of collectors.
He keeps a mental inventory of everything in the studio. From his taxidermied treasures to bowls of buttons.
Alessandro Michele studied costume design and thought he might work in Hollywood before he landed at the luxury fashion house Fendi and later Gucci. Today, his looks start with sketches. Then the outfits are sewn. But the Gucci magic happens when it gets in front of Michele. To us he seemed as much a puzzle master as a designer.
Alessandro Michele: I love to be open to the things that– make me feel like, “Oh, my gosh. What is this?” and I start to play with these kind of things. I like the ugly things.
That’s right – the fashion designer said he likes ugly things.
“More strange”, we heard him say as he narrowed his 200 looks to the 115 that made it into the Hollywood show.
Alessandro Michele: We are selling the dream of freedom. It’s like a voice that is saying “if you are like this, you are good. Nothing wrong.”
Michele’s idea of beauty and style is nothing like the Gucci that defined luxury for decades.
Guccio Gucci started the company in the 1920’s making high-end luggage.
Forty years later, Gucci was being worn by Princess Grace of Monaco and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Slick and sexy Gucci ruled the 90s. But in the years that followed, the Gucci family had sold all its interests – and the brand lost its mojo and market share.
That’s when Gucci’s new CEO – Marco Bizzarri showed up. The impeccably tailored yin to Michele’s Yang.
Sharyn Alfonsi: At first glance, you two look like you shouldn’t go together, (LAUGH) right?
Marco Bizzarri: Totally.
Marco Bizzarri: But in a way, we have the same love for beautiful things. The way we express that could be different but at the end this is Gucci.
Bizzarri had a full-blown crisis on his hands when he took over in 2015. His top designer quit just weeks before a show. Bizzarri could have hired anybody, but people inside the house begged him to talk to Alessandro Michele, who had been with Gucci 12 years designing handbags and accessories.
Marco Bizzarri: So I met him in his apartment. And it– you open the door. I mean, he’s wearing something that I never saw in any single thing– in– in any shop in– in Gucci. So then I sat down and I was looking around in the apartment. There was all these antiques and beautiful colors. Beautiful texture. And– and amazing taste. Even the way which was serving me the coffee was so elegant.
Alessandro Michele: I felt myself very free to– to say everything.
Sharyn Alfonsi: What did you say?
Alessandro Michele: Oh, I was saying what the brand maybe was not– at that time was not so relevant. Because the brand lost this kind of beautiful strangeness.
Marco Bizzarri: So I ask him, “Listen, if I appoint you as a creative director, are you willing to do the show, the men’s show,” that– was going to happen in five days.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Five days? (LAUGH)
Marco Bizzarri: I don’t think– never been held in fashion history that someone made a show at– for a s– company like ours– this size, in five days. And he said, “Yes.”
Nobody knew what to make of what Michele whipped up for his first show in less than a week.
Alessandro Michele: When I finished everything and the show was gone. I was so tired. And I said, “Maybe they’re gonna fire me.” (LAUGHTER) But, you know, it’s– it’s a job that–
Sharyn Alfonsi: Did you really think that? Did you really think–
Alessandro Michele: In– yeah, for a minute. I don’t know why. Because it was so different, you know.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Some people were like, “Did Gucci lose their mind?”
Alessandro Michele: Yeah. there were people– on Instagram writing that– everything was kind of horrible, you know? That it was not Gucci.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Did you lose customers at first?
Marco Bizzarri: Yeah, I think so. Yes. But we got– a lot of the– the new– the new generations a lot. A lot. Actually, I think the change in aesthetic that Alessandro did for Gucci brought this new generation into the fashion world, the luxury world.
Bizzarri’s bet paid off. Gucci sales tripled in five years.
Sharyn Alfonsi: Who’s your customer? Is it the movie star? Or is it the 19-year-old with their nose pressed against the glass at Gucci that you’re hoping– wears what you put–
Alessandro Michele: I don’t know.
Sharyn Alfonsi: –wears what you put your heart into?
Alessandro Michele: I was thinking about everybody. Because fashion is really for everybody
Sharyn Alfonsi: But doesn’t everybody have to afford it?
Alessandro Michele: I don’t know. Yeah, maybe no.
No one at Gucci apologizes for the prices. They follow the luxury brand philosophy: you can charge as much as the buyer is willing to pay. And for Gucci, they do, big-time. Their wool- lined loafers sell for almost a thousand dollars. The highest priced bags – $35,000.
Gucci makes most of its money from leather goods. They gave us rare permission to go inside a factory outside Florence. It looks like an operating room. We saw bags that were hand-sewn and hand-painted. Gucci says almost all of their products are still made in Italy. And watching these artisans at work, you can almost start to make sense of the high prices that make their bags one of the most desired and counterfeited items in the world.
Sharyn Alfonsi: They say, you know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But when you see some fake Gucci gear fly by and you see it all over Rome.
Alessandro Michele: (LAUGH) It’s– it’s– it’s pretty crazy. I’m still dealing with the copies that I see everywhere. I think that means– kind of power of the brand.
Sharyn Alfonsi: But does it upset you?
Alessandro Michele: No, never. Because that means that you are popular.
Sharyn Alfonsi: That you’re relevant.
Alessandro Michele: Relevant, yeah. It’s– it’s like in music. If someone is copying you…
Sharyn Alfonsi: Is it more important to you that Gucci is considered fashionable or relevant?
Alessandro Michele: I would love to say both. But maybe more relevant. Because I think that relevant means that you are saying something. And fashion must say something now.
Alessandro Michele directed Gucci to get his message to younger customers with online films, relentless social media campaigns and shows that bring cerebral to a whole new level, like one where the models are carrying wax replicas of their head. Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto followed suit in a Gucci gown at a charity gala.
Jared Leto: I carried the head around. But the thing about the head was everyone wanted to play with my head. (LAUGH)
Sharyn Alfonsi: Do you just bring it out to dinner parties or–
Jared Leto: I mean, I haven’t seen it since that night basically. Yeah, it’s pretty heavy.
Sharyn Alfonsi: It’s pretty–
Jared Leto: Yeah, well, big brain in there.
Sharyn Alfonsi: For an actor, right? (LAUGH)
Jared Leto: You know, yeah, it’s– it’s a very heavy head for an actor.
Today, Gucci attracts a brand of celebrity who doesn’t want to play it safe. Think: Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, and Serena Williams. Leto promotes Gucci and wears it almost exclusively on the red carpet, and of course, when he’s gardening with michele.
Jared Leto: He has a great sense of humor. I’ve worn– like, a counterfeit Gucci shirt.
Sharyn Alfonsi: With him?
Jared Leto: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And– he says, “Oh, darling, that’s fake.” (LAUGHTER) And I’m like, “I know.”
Alessandro Michele: Now when you think to Gucci, you think that you can look beautiful in different ways, you know? And that’s something I think very powerful for everybody. Because in the past, I mean, fashion was just one way.
The Hollywood show, which took six months to create, lasted just 22 minutes. Right now, Alessandro Michele is the most influential designer in fashion but he’ll be the first to tell you nothing is eternal – except his city: Rome.
Sharyn Alfonsi: You said after that first show you were worried they were (LAUGH) gonna fire you.
Alessandro Michele: Yeah. (LAUGH)
Sharyn Alfonsi: Are you feeling a little more confident now? (LAUGH)
Alessandro Michele: I love to feel insecure in a way. It–
Sharyn Alfonsi: It makes you creative–
Alessandro Michele: Yeah, it make me feel creative. It’s almost like life. It’s not forever. That’s the most beautiful thing, that nothing’s forever. That’s why it’s precious.
Produced by Guy Campanile. Associate producer, Lucy Hatcher. Broadcast associate, Elizabeth Germino. Edited by Michael Mongulla.