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Gucci Reeling in Commercial Appeal, Repositioning with Pricier Heritage-Inspired Pieces

>> Since Frida Giannini took the helm back in 2004, Gucci has been criticized for being too commercial, even earning comparisons to Zara at one point. The label's chief executive, Patrizio di Marco, who joined the company at the beginning of last year, agrees: "Gucci was going too mass-market, too commercial, too much on opening price points."

While having less expensive, aspirational products boosted Gucci's sales for several years, the brand had hoped to hit €3 billion ($3.9 billion) in sales by 2011. Last year, sales were €2.27 billion. Di Marco blames the fact that buyers for Gucci's own stores (which account for 70 percent of the brand's sales) were choosing cheaper, logoed items over Giannini's designs, causing her designs to be lost and an erosion of the brand's exclusivity. During the slump, aspirational purchases also slowed sharply, resulting in Gucci being hit harder than Louis Vuitton or Hermes.

So di Marco has set out to elevate the brand and shed it of its cheapening image. The brand's Spring 2011 collection focuses on "sophisticated seduction" and marks the debut of a new line of heritage-inspired handbags drawing from the brand's equestrian history. "Every single brand in the universe, especially in this industry, is talking about heritage — even when there's no heritage, no history," says di Marco, who noted that he supports Giannini's use of archives for inspiration. "Some designers say, 'The archives are old and I know best. That's the most pretentious attitude possible. This company is about icons."

He added that Gucci will place less focus on the cheaper "GG" monogram canvas bags, which saturated the market previously, and more emphasis on its new offering of "vintage" bags such as the New Bamboo bag, an updated $2,000 version of a 1947 bag with a bamboo handle, and the $3,000 New Jackie leather bag, which takes its inspiration from a purse made famous by Jackie Onassis. Gucci store buyers have also been given strict guidelines on what they can choose for their boutiques — instead of so many logo bags, prime positioning and focus will go towards the new heritage-inspired products.

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