His debut, a women’s collection, instead proposed a modern girl-about-town wardrobe of crisp daywear, like simple tailored blazers, leather A-line skirts, sailor tops, and even a hoodie. De Sarno was ushering in a major aesthetic shift at the house, and bringing with it a fundamentally different way of thinking about fashion, which is essentially that Gucci should be in the business of making clothes rather than costumes. “I love when you see the people under the clothes, not the clothes on the people,” he says. “I don’t like to see people wear a Gucci outfit or a Gucci brand, but you lose completely the humanity and the personality. This is something that happens in the theater, but fashion is real. It is real life, it is day wear, it is everyday looks.”
Was it exactly the practical and commercial reset that Gucci wanted when they replaced Michele with De Sarno, as parent company Kering eyes growth to $15 billion? Some critics pointed out that the first collection seemed undercooked, and too plain. But most agreed that De Sarno—like any new creative director—should be given time to hit his stride.
His debut contained several references to Tom Ford-era Gucci, and here he adds another characteristic that links him to Ford: a level of spicy candor that is rarely shared by big league designers today. When he mentions that, to him, fashion is desirability, I point out that some found his collection lacking in just that. Later, he tells me the only opinions he cares about are his mom’s and his husband’s. Leaning sideways on the pillowy couch, De Sarno seizes the opportunity to vent. “If you see those people, what can we do in their life? Nothing, maybe,” he says. Does he mean critics? “I love critics,” he says. But he also loves and will defend his collection several times over the course of our chat. “I think my show was wow, more than wow,” he says. Perhaps, he suggests, the reception was mixed because we’re trained to respond to Instagram-friendly spectacle rather than subtlety. That’s not his thing. “If for the people wow is to have a big dress or a sparkly everywhere or a top model—it’s also wow, but that’s not a Sabato way,” he says.
As a young aide pipes in with the occasional translation, De Sarno continues, heating up. He welcomes criticism, he says, but remember—he is a person who does. He looks unkindly on those who simply talk. “The people say they love changes, but they don’t really love change, they don’t want to change,” he says. “I think this is the big problem about this world. The people just talking, ‘I love the changes,’ it’s not true, it’s not really true. The people, some of them, if they know better than me what I can do for Gucci, come! Help me. If you know, come to me and we can do work together.”
I don’t think he’s thin-skinned or still adjusting to the spotlight. De Sarno clearly considers fashion design a highly dignified profession that’s been twisted into something more like a performance. He takes his job incredibly seriously, and bristles at disrespect. “If you come to my show and watch my show from your iPhone, I prefer you stay at home and watch from the iPad, it’s bigger than iPhone and maybe you understand better,” he says, only half-joking. “I think fashion is a serious thing,” he continues. “It’s a job. We move a lot of money, we give work to many families.”
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