The financial coup comes after a remarkable period of reinvention at the hands of Michele. Gucci, always the jewel in the Kering crown, accounting for 60 per cent of the conglomerate's total income, had been stagnating both commercially and creatively in recent years. When Michele, the inside man who had quietly worked away behind the scenes at Gucci for 12 years, was unexpectedly made creative director of the house in January 2015, he was staring down the barrel of declining sales and an increasingly irrelevant aesthetic. Despite the pressure, his first womenswear show, for autumn/winter 2015, was rapturously received by the fashion press and buyers - but the odd dissenter whispered that favourable reviews are no guarantee of commercial success. Michele, who won International Fashion Designer of the Year in December, at the British Fashion Awards, looks to have silenced them.
"Gucci has come in with a significant number of new designs that are starting to then heads," luxury analysts at Exane BNP Paribas said, in a statement that concluded that the figures "show that Gucci's management is both expedient and on the right track." The results are all the more remarkable given the slump in almost every region, and especially in the Chinese market - a core growth area.
Gucci has a topsy turvy history. After nearly going bankrupt in the Nineties, Tom Ford chivvied (and shaved - remember that infamous pubic hair logo ad?) it towards megabrand status with sales of over $3 billion and a high-octane, sex-fuelled image to match. When he left ten years later in 2004, it took two years for Frida Giannini to begin replicating his formula for blatant glamour. Giannini proved equally savvy when it came to branding, bringing back the house's signature Flora print on a line of bags in 2005, and successfully updating the Jackie bag in 2008, but providing little else in terms of a creative voice.
Still, the sex sold. Gucci consistently scores in the top three in brand recognition surveys when customers are asked which luxury brands they'd like to buy, according to Exane BNP Paribas. In Forbes' list of the 100 most valuable brands, Gucci is the second-highest luxury house, second only to Louis Vuitton.
But then things changed. After years of steady growth, quarterly sales had begun to slow in 2013, as Giannini's repertoire wore thin. By December 2014, after three quarters of declining sales, Giannini and her husband, Gucci's CEO Patrizio di Marco, were replaced with Michele.
Michele's changes were as dramatic as they were rapturously received. Gone was the jet-black runway, in favour of blood red, with plush pink cushioned seats forhis debut show, autumn/winter 2015. Gone, too, was the blood-red-lipped, metallic-sheened night crawler that had previously epitomised the Gucci girl. In its place? A romantic vision of an Italianate aristocrat, furnished with the finest vintage pieces executed in the highest quality. He brought back the double G logo, put a huge focus back on desirable accessories, and made the brand a season-defining voice in less than one year.
Last summer he began rolling out his new store concept, although it will take a while to implement - Gucci has 500 stores worldwide, many of which only just received the Giannini update. Instead of nightclub-black lacquered shopfits, Michele's vision is of mustard and lavender velvet sofas, clothes hung on gold rails against pale walls and handbags fanned out in a slightly haphazard fashion on marble-topped antique tables. It's sparser that one might imagine to look at the gorgeous chaos that defines his clothing aesthetic - but as Michele says, "the product is the decoration".
Results were immediate, albeit soft. In the second quarter of 2015, sales beat expectations to rise by 4.6 per cent. Analysts pointed to the support of end-of-season sales, especially those in China - the remnants of Giannini's Gucci. More pressure was piled on when Gucci's CEO, Marco Bizzarri, announced it would not be discounting Michele's first two collections. "The full-price sell-through is super high, so even if I put them on sale now, the impact on sales would be tiny," Bizzarri said at the time. The Italian will be pleased he stuck to his guns. As he moves towards the final week before the unveiling of his autumn/winter 2016 show, Michele's Midas touch looks to be a lingering one.