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How Gucci Transformed A Corporate Crisis Into A Success Model

At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2019, Robert Triefus, the executive Vice President of Brand and Customer Engagement at Gucci talked about the success story behind the Italian fashion empire.

In a session entitled Pushing Culture Forward: The Gucci & Dapper Dan Story hosted by Steve Stoute, Robert Triefus discussed how Gucci’s triumph, considered as the biggest brand reinvention in the recent history of fashion, comes from the company’s focus on its internal culture and inclusivity.

However, the brand has faced a few bumps along the road and some of which touched on cultural appropriation and insensitivity.

Back in 2018, the creative director of Gucci, Alessandro Michele, designed a piece with resemblance to a 1980s design by the iconic Dapper Dan. And while Michele didn’t initially give credit to the original designer, the Gucci enterprise transformed the backlash into positive notoriety. Instead of denying and avoiding the issue, Gucci decided to collaborate directly with Dapper Dan and launched a campaign to revive his atelier in Harlem. They also released a joint capsule collection that was worn by the likes of Beyonce and Kendall Jenner. Alessandro Michele first did it as a homage to Dan so they naturally collaborated and brought more knowledge to Dan’s story and legacy. It has since then become a story of creative respect that celebrated a cultural moment.

On stage, Robert Triefus elaborated what Gucci’s inclusivity and strategy was all about.

Is there an emotional formula behind Gucci’s success?
Well, it started almost five years ago when we were looking at the climate of the fashion industry. An industry which sets and defines trends but was somehow in a rut. So we decided it was time for a disruption that brings more emotions to the status quo.

In a world of exclusivity we wanted to focus more on inclusivity. Inclusion in fashion is about how we embrace opportunity for co-creation, to recognize the power of capital, and to bring together a cross-generational and a multicultural audience.

Your culture is your brand, what does that mean?
Often times the retail experience is neither warm nor welcoming so we turned this upside down and transformed it into a joyful one.

Everyone in the company needs to believe in the defined values, hence we started inside out with a bottom-up encouragement strategy that empowers and creates experimental ideas. I am a firm believer that the culture of the company is the main driving force.

When it comes to diversity in retail, some brands don’t practice what they preach. How did you solve this issue?
We empower, train and engage our retail staff. The human experience is at the center of our strategy; we also hire people without a retail experience to constitute a team of different stories.

Every brand is on a journey, and our job is to create a diverse environment on a daily basis. We are a brand that historically has been embraced by many different cultures and we celebrate that.

Earlier this year, a controversy regarding an image with a black face character appeared on a garment, how did you deal with the crisis?
It was a shock to our system, since our brand’s mantra is about empowering self-expression. Our creative director Alessandro himself fought for inclusion in his own life.

Firstly, it was completely non-intentional, and it was an illustration for us as a global brand that we are always on a journey. And because the African-American community embraces us, we reached out to Dapper Dan and did a gathering in Harlem. We shared an emotional feeling that then led us to announce a couple of initiatives to improve our internal structure and appointed a director for that. We also launched a fellowship program to identify four colleges in Africa and encouraged our employees to move seamlessly across continents.

What does it mean to be culturally curious, and not only employ it as a response to a crisis?
It means that you have to lean in. One of our experiences is learning how we can do more in the communities that surround our stores. Like granting our employees paid time to volunteer in their communities or giving bonuses to directors based on their involvement in culture and society.

How do you maintain the balance between aspirational and attainable?
Gucci is considered one of the leading luxury street wear brands. The world of today is a mash up and you must curate everything with great attention. Based on recent research, we found out that the new generation appreciates Gucci for its perfect imperfection. I especially like this insight as it boils down to us being authentic.

How does Gucci use digital platforms to interact with its audience?
Digital is naturally inclusive and opens the door for the general public. From the very beginning we worked with a lot of emerging digital talents who gave fantastic collaborations and which opened the brand in a very inspiring way.