“House of Gucci” hits cinemas Wednesday, promising a star-studded satirical romp through an Italian fashion dynasty’s decline marked by sex, glamour, greed and murder.
The film is poised to be a blockbuster, fronted by Lady Gaga and directed by Ridley Scott. Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Jared Leto, and Salma Hayek round out the cast’s star power and prestige. It’s already generated a universe of memes and red-carpet moments ahead of its Thanksgiving weekend release.
But for Gucci, the brand, it’s more complicated. While the label stands to benefit from the biggest Hollywood brand placement since 2006′s “The Devil Wears Prada,” the film also speaks of an era and events the Kering-owned luxury label would prefer to leave in the past.
“Gucci’s current brand positioning is misaligned with the film on several levels,” said Marc Beckman of New York-based advertising agency DMA United. “It is probably to the brand’s benefit to maintain a healthy arms-length.”
As Gucci struggles to restore momentum following the pandemic — the unit’s third-quarter sales were down 4 percent compared to 2019′s pre-coronavirus levels — the huge buzz around the film is nonetheless expected to supply a welcome boost.
Since September, “House of Gucci” has sparked over 25,000 posts across news and social media, garnering online visibility worth an estimated $104 million, according to consultancy Launchmetrics.
Buzz for the film has been comparable to the total online exposure Gucci would typically generate in a month, Launchmetrics said, adding that it’s proved three times as valuable as coverage of the brand’s fashion show in Los Angeles in November.
But Gucci’s approach to this marketing opportunity has remained somewhat cautious. During production, Gucci lent items from its archive and allowed the crew to shoot a scene in its Rome store. The brand had no other creative or financial involvement, a Gucci spokesperson said.
Gucci dressed some of the film’s stars for its London premiere, including Gaga, Leto, and Hayek. (Leto is a Gucci brand ambassador while Hayek is married to Kering’s chairman François-Henri Pinault; their casting may have contributed to an exaggerated perception of Gucci’s role).
But Gucci has not directly sponsored red-carpet events, organised screenings, or engaged in any other co-branded marketing surrounding the film. Gaga wore Valentino and Versace for subsequent premieres.
For Gucci, maintaining a suitable distance from the project has a certain logic. The film will certainly shine visibility on the Gucci name, and reaffirm its association with money, status and glamour. But it doesn’t show the Gucci of today — either in terms of its aesthetic or inclusive values.
The period depicted in the film, the Gucci of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, is considered a relative low point in the brand’s aesthetic history. The story of Patrizia Reggiani (Gaga’s character), who paid a hitman to murder her ex-husband Maurizio Gucci, is a scandal the brand would prefer to disassociate from.
Then there’s the question of waiting to find out if the film is any good. As Gaga and Gucci stans breathlessly reposted the film’s trailer, plenty who saw it struggled to digest the film’s choice to have its American actors all speak with Italian accents. Reactions by critics have ranged from calling it “a sophisticated true-life tale” to a “bloated and uneven mess.”
Gucci isn’t the first brand to have to navigate a Hollywood project that traded on its famous identity. Versace disavowed Ryan Murphy’s sensational miniseries “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” in 2018. For “The Devil Wears Prada,” Anna Wintour showed she was a good sport by turning up to an early screening wearing the film’s namesake label. But Vogue and Prada otherwise stayed out of the mix.
Other projects have been more clearly endorsed: Chanel’s late creative director Karl Lagerfeld designed a custom outfit for the final scenes of the biopic “Coco Before Chanel,” while Dior went so far as to co-produce Frédéric Tcheng’s 2015 documentary “Dior & I.” Dior offered Tcheng unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the French fashion house at a time when it was seeking to refocus the narrative following John Galliano’s shocking exit.
For Gucci, the additional buzz from “House of Gucci” comes at a welcome time, too, financial analysts say.
While the brand enjoyed an unprecedented boom following the appointment of Alessandro Michele in 2016, sales have bounced back from the pandemic more slowly than rivals like Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Dior.
The brand’s sales missed analyst expectations in the third quarter, with owner Kering blaming the under-performance on the return of stricter coronavirus restrictions in some parts of Asia, a reduction in the brand’s wholesale exposure, and fewer new releases as the brand awaited the arrival of its Aria collection, which notably includes the co-branded “Hacker” capsule with Balenciaga. The brand is forecasting an acceleration as it follows up its Los Angeles runway show with as many as 30 pop-ups to mark its 100-year anniversary.
The door is also still open to more aggressively seek opportunities for cross-promotion with “House of Gucci” during awards season, should the project turn out to be a hit.
The film “should provide useful buzz around Gucci — needed, I would argue,” Bernstein analyst Luca Solca said.
Additional reporting by Alexandra Mondalek.