Thursday, November 24, 2022

Alessandro Michele Is Exiting Gucci After A Wildly Successful Seven-Year Run

Alessandro Michele is exiting Gucci, the brand announced today. The Roman designer had an enormously successful almost eight-year run that reversed the fortunes of the Kering-owned Italian heritage label and changed the look of fashion.

Michele was a Tom Ford hire and worked under Frida Giannini. He was plucked from the accessories studio by Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri, an unexpected choice if ever there were one. Early requests for interviews with the scruffy haired designer, who came out for his first bow in January 2015 surrounded by his team, had to wait for the then-unknown to go through media training.

In a statement Bizzarri said: “I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet Alessandro at
the end of 2014, since then we have had the pleasure to work closely together as Gucci has charted its successful path over these last eight years. I would like to thank him for his 20 years of commitment to Gucci and for his vision, devotion, and unconditional love for this unique house during his tenure as creative director.”

But if he was a shy or reluctant front-man at first, he made an instant impact. His first hit walked his debut women’s runway for autumn/winter 2015. That season’s kangaroo-lined loafers had Gucci’s familiar horse-bit hardware, but otherwise announced that Michele would be taking the label in a more eclectic, eccentric direction.

From the get-go, he established his magpie aesthetic, lifting liberally from you-name-the-decade in time expanding style and ushering in an era of gender nonconformity that continues today, while growing a loyal fan base in usually-fickle Hollywood in the process. Michele’s singular vision seduced the likes of Jared Leto (a Michele doppelganger), Dakota Johnson, Billie Eilish, and Harry Styles, whose collaboration with the designer, Ha Ha Ha, recently arrived in stores. In him, perhaps they saw a kindred soul – he studied costume design at Rome’s Academy of Costume and Fashion. In any case, he cultivated a tight-knit group; his Gucci family was a merry band of artists who wore their hearts sometimes literally on their sleeves.

Michele had a flair for rule-breaking hook-ups. There was the autumn/winter 2021 Hacker Project with his Kering stablemate Demna of Balenciaga, and then a year later he beat Demna and Balenciaga to the punch with Gucci’s Adidas collab. Earlier in the pandemic, Michele enlisted the director Gus Van Sant to create a short film set in his hometown of Rome, indulging his love for movies. When he was taken to task for lifting from the Harlem couturier Dapper Dan, Gucci went into business with him. And it was during his tenure that the company launched the Vault, an online resale project for reworked treasures from the label’s jet-set era heyday and an e-commerce emporium for on-the-rise designers that won his seal of approval, among them Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour, Bianca Saunders, and Rui Zhou.

His most prolific collaborator was his partner Giovanni Attili, who drafted what have to be fashion’s most scholarly, if sometimes impenetrable, show notes. Autumn/winter 2018’s source material, Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto”, helped produce one of Michele’s most memorable shows for the house, complete with models carrying lifelike replicas of their own heads. The collection was a metaphor for how people construct their identities with the help of machines and other non-natural additions – “we are the Dr Frankenstein of our own lives”, Michele said at the time – but he was the most human of designers: deeply ruminative and romantic.

Michele’s arrival at Gucci coincided with fashion’s newfound penchant for taking pre-season shows on the road, and he stage-directed some goodies. From the Roman necropolis that is the Alyscamps in Arles, France, to the Roman Forum itself, and from Westminster Abbey in London to LA’s Hollywood Boulevard, where as many celebrities walked the runway as sat in the front row, he was a master at creating an atmosphere. In Milan, Michele’s first shows took place at the Diana Majestic, home to Tom Ford and Frida Giannini’s collections for the brand, but soon moved to new headquarters on the edge of the city whose impressive block-spanning size signalled the brand’s newfound prosperity.

It was on Michele’s watch that Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci was released, and if it was Tom Ford whose likeness appeared on the big screen, in other ways it was Michele’s movie. His pal Jared Leto camped it up as Paolo Gucci, and Lady Gaga, the movie’s scene-chewing star, wore gowns of his design on the red-carpet circuit. Indeed, the Sara Gay Forden book that the movie was based on was published in 2000, but it was only after Gucci’s return to relevance under Michele that the movie finally went into production.

But in fashion even the brightest stars don’t shine forever. Perhaps because of Michele’s agenda-setting success, Gucci’s sales eventually started to dip, and in the wake of the pandemic parent company Kering’s shares fell amidst the brand’s slow-down. A recent WWD report quoted an anonymous source claiming Michele “was asked to initiate a strong design shift”. If that is so, it appears Michele resisted it. With a highly emotional show for spring 2023 featuring 68 sets of twins, he only doubled down on his vision. The show notes from his first women’s collection for autumn/winter 2015 are telling, in this regard. In them is a line from the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben: “Those who are truly contemporary are those who neither perfectly coincide with their time nor adapt to its demands…”

Michele offered his own statement: “There are times when paths part ways because of the different perspectives each one of us may have. Today an extraordinary journey ends for me, lasting more than 20 years, within a company to which I have tirelessly dedicated all my love and creative passion. During this long period Gucci has been my home, my adopted family. To this extended family, to all the individuals who have looked after and supported it, I send my most sincere thanks, my biggest and most heartfelt embrace. Together with them I have wished, dreamed, imagined. Without them, none of what I have built would have been possible. To them goes my most sincerest wish: may you continue to cultivate your dreams, the subtle and intangible matter that makes life worth living. May you continue to nourish yourselves with poetic and inclusive imagery, remaining faithful to your values. May you always live by your passions, propelled by the wind of freedom.” A moving sentiment, and a remarkable tenure.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Kingdom Of Dreams Lifts The Lid On The Paris Fashion Industry

"Fashion is a dream-maker, a myth-creator; an illusion, a spell," starts the first episode in a new fashion documentary series from Fremantle, "…driven by greed and envy." Starring Anna Wintour, Bernard Arnault and wall-to-wall 90s supermodels, the series charts a golden period in fashion history: the 1990s-2010s. Packed with fashion drama, the four-part series explores how luxury tycoons Bernard Arnault (LVMH Group) and François Pinault (Kering) built their rival empires in Paris, while US Vogue Creative Director Anna Wintour shaped contemporary fashion behind the scenes. The series premiered at the ASVOFF fashion film festival in Paris earlier this month, and is expected to be sold to networks and streaming services soon.

The series begins in the 1980s, when many of the iconic fashion houses in Paris had fallen into decline. Bernard Arnault, then a young and ambitious entrepreneur, seized the opportunity to buy ailing fashion house Dior in the 1980s. In doing so, he laid the foundations for what would become the most powerful luxury behemoth of them all: LVMH Group.

The Dior purchase was swiftly followed by the famously acrimonious acquisition of Louis Vuitton, and the sidelining of the Vuitton family which earned Arnault the moniker the 'Wolf in Cashmere' for his ruthless, US-style approach to business in the then much less dynamic French luxury market. It also set a precedent for buying designers' names, which would see a rash of designers stripped of their own houses in the 1990s.

Meanwhile his ally, Anna Wintour, then Editor-in-Chief of US Vogue, was reinvigorating the fashion industry by throwing her weight behind the dynamic young designers that would eventually helm household names. Fresh out of London's Central Saint Martins, we meet John Galliano, the picture of youthful joy and exuberant creativity, weaving fashion dreams that are so beguiling that supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Linda Evangelista walked for him for free, at the height of their fame. "You wanted to step into John's light," says creative consultant Amanda Harlech, "the rest was darkness."

With Anna's support, Galliano was able to bring the baroque drama of his fashion to its rightful place: couture, when he was appointed creative director of Givenchy in 1995. Just a year later, he was moved to Dior, opening up the creative directorship at Givenchy, which was filled by another Central Saint Martins graduate, Alexander Lee McQueen, also supernaturally talented. The pair went head-to-head with their debut collections for Spring/Summer 1997 and although the collection was dubbed "a disaster" by the label's founder Hubert de Givenchy, McQueen went on to have stellar success under his own name.

Episode two introduces Tom Ford, who revitalized the house of Gucci in Milan, and in doing so, entered the fray of family rivalry and mafia intrigue. He also made handbags sexy, a business model that Arnault took note of back in Paris, bringing the New York fashion scene's enfant terrible - and Ford contemporary - Marc Jacobs, to design at Louis Vuitton. Arnault also had his eye on Gucci but a hostile takeover was thwarted at the final hour by the man who would become his rival: François Pinault, who went on to buy Saint Laurent and build Kering.

The Arnault-Pinault rivalry is detailed in future episodes, as the pair compete by buying up Europe's fashion houses and developing them with ever-more glamorous power plays, extravagant flagship stores, artist collaborations and celebrity endorsement, all the while ensuring that each brand is accessible to everyone, even if only via a lipstick. No stranger to the world of celebrity, is Anna Wintour, who makes stars out of the new fashion players and reaps the advertising-dollar rewards of their success.

The designers' stories are tinged with sadness. They are each known to have battled drink and drugs and the series also explores the pressures loaded onto designers to drive the fashion machine forwards. Says Dana Thomas, a fashion specialist and author of the book from which the series is derived: "it's all about making noise. The noise will sell everything else," and within such a high-stakes and aggressive business model, the designer is king. Trouble comes, often in the form of addiction and mental health issues, when they begin to believe their own mythology.

What has emerged from this golden era of creativity, is a megalith of an industry, the second-worst pollutant on the planet and the epitome of 21st century globalization. A subversive quartet of designers changed the face of the fashion industry in the 2000s and it was off the back of their talent, that Arnault and his rival, François Pinault grew their businesses. In identifying and supporting them, Anna Wintour was able to extend her influence across both sides of the Atlantic, and the designers themselves were able to live out their dreams in the world's capital of fashion, but at what cost?

From the team behind the recent feature documentary McQueen, Kingdom of Dreams is an emotionally charged romp through the fashion business, coming soon to a screen near you.

Alessandro Michele Is Exiting Gucci, Sources Say

Could a major change be taking place at Gucci? Well-placed sources here say that creative director Alessandro Michele is exiting the brand.

A statement is expected as early as Wednesday. Gucci did not respond to repeated requests for comment late Tuesday Milan time.

A source who spoke on condition of anonymity told WWD that Michele “was asked to initiate a strong design shift” to light a fire under the brand, but the designer did not meet the request. Another source said François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive officer of Gucci’s parent Kering, is looking at a change of pace for the group’s star brand.

This would not be the first time Pinault has shaken up one of Kering’s key brands. Last November, in a surprise move, Pinault ousted Daniel Lee from Bottega Veneta despite the designer’s strong performance at the brand and much critical success.

Lee, who is now creative director at Burberry, was succeeded at Bottega by Matthieu Blazy, who had been in the brand’s studio. Blazy in two seasons has rapidly put his mark on the brand, taking it back to its artisanal roots.

Pinault could be looking to do the same at Gucci, even though Michele’s most recent show for the brand in September was one of the standouts of the spring 2023 season. The designer sent out a stream of models in both his signature androgynous looks as well as some that were more restrained with an injection of more classic tailoring.

The twist came when a partition lifted to show that half the audience was watching the exact same show — the models in the show were all identical twins, in a personal reflection of Michele about identity. He revealed after the show that his mother was a twin and so he always felt he had two mothers.

Michele was officially appointed to the top creative role in January 2015, two days after he first took a bow at the end of Gucci’s men’s fall 2015 show.

With that seminal show he reinvented Gucci with a completely new, quirky and androgynous aesthetic that toppled his predecessor Frida Giannini’s sophisticated jet-set lifestyle image.

Gucci president and CEO Marco Bizzarri selected Michele to succeed Giannini, who had exited a week earlier, and has long been a strong supporter of the designer. However, one source believes “the honeymoon with Bizzarri is over, and the relationship is not as strong as before.”

It may be telling that Michele did not fly to Seoul for Gucci’s repeat Cosmogonie show, scheduled for Nov. 1, which was canceled following the tragic events in the South Korean city, where more than 150 people were killed and dozens were injured after being crushed in a large crowd in the Itaewon nightlife district while celebrating Halloween.

If confirmed, the news comes ahead of Gucci’s return to Milan’s Men’s Fashion Week in January.

Michele’s gender-fluid and romantic spirit has influenced a slew of other designers, and his tenure at Gucci helped the brand cater to a younger and more diverse customer, as well as boost its business. After his appointment, Gucci posted growth exceeding 35 percent for five consecutive quarters by the first quarter of 2018, prompting Bizzarri to set a 10 billion euro revenue target for the brand in June that year.

However, Kering last month reported that its cash cow Gucci continued to underperform versus the group’s other brands, although organic sales picked up pace in the third quarter. Revenues at the Italian label totaled 2.6 billion euros, up 9 percent on a like-for-like basis, following a 4 percent rise in the second quarter.

That was slightly below a consensus of analysts’ estimates, which called for a 10 percent increase in comparable sales at the maker of Dionysus handbags and horsebit loafers. By comparison, organic sales at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s key fashion and leather goods division rose 22 percent year-over-year in the third quarter.

Bizzarri took on his role at Gucci on Jan. 1, 2015, succeeding Patrizio di Marco. He told WWD at the time that elevating Michele to the post of creative director was “looking from outside, not the most obvious choice,” but that he was “exactly the right person” for that position, tasked with halting Gucci’s then-performance declines.

Michele joined the Gucci design studio in 2002 following a stint as senior accessories designer at Fendi. He was appointed “associate” to Giannini in 2011, and in 2014 took on the additional responsibility of creative director of Richard Ginori, the porcelain brand acquired by Gucci in 2013.

Kanye West Sells Balenciaga, Adidas, And Gap hoodies For $20

Kanye West gave a tour around his Los Angeles workshop to an online news site. He showed 100 cut-up hoodies from Balenciaga, Adidas, Yeezy, and Gap, which he will sell for $20.
The clothes are left over from when the companies cut ties with Ye after his antisemitic comments.

Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, says he's selling Balenciaga, Adidas, and Gap hoodies for $20, in a video published by celebrity news site X17.

The rapper-turned-fashion designer gave a tour around his Los Angeles workshop, where ten employees can be seen working with sewing machines. Hundreds of garments are hung on rails, or laid out on tables and across the floor.

Many of them are labelled with his "Ye24" campaign, as West also confirmed he will run for president once again in 2024 . It is unclear if the fashion houses' hoodies are part of this, or a separate endeavor, as they are unbranded.

Ye said: "I cut up 100 hoodies" from Yeezy, Balenciaga, Gap, and Adidas, "and everything we do is going to cost $20."

The companies all cut ties with Ye in the wake of his antisemitic comments last month, with Adidas consequently halving its 2022 earnings forecast.

The German sportswear company also said it will sell more Yeezy designs under its own Adidas branding, because it still owns the copyright, not Ye.

Explaining the thinking behind the $20 hoodies, Ye said: "We need to make sure everyone receives the same level of cuts, the same level of food, same level of water, same level of education."

"We're engineering opportunities, we're getting past the past, we're focused on the future," West continued.

On Monday, Ye made a comeback to Twitter as he tweeted the Hebrew greeting "Shalom" – having previously been suspended for saying he will go "death con 3" on Jewish people.

In the video, he also shows some new jackets he's designed, gifting one to the cameraman before correcting him on his new name, Ye.

He acknowledged "it's gonna take us a while to update," before adding: "As a species we need to update together. Everything's been so divisive: when they say 'diversity,' people look at that like it's a good thing, but we're the United States of America."

Balenciaga and Gap did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment, while Adidas declined to comment.

Albert Nipon, Chairman Of The Albert Nipon Design House, Dies At Age 95

Albert Nipon, chairman of the Albert Nipon design house, died at the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia on Sunday of natural causes. He was 95.

A private service for friends and family was planned for Monday afternoon.

Together with his late wife, Pearl, Albert Nipon built one of the leading better dress companies in the U.S. in the ’70s and ’80s, selling in stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Nipon was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 11, 1927, to Louis and Sara Nipon, who owned a delicatessen. Albert Nipon graduated from West Philadelphia High School, where he was a star athlete, excelling in both football and track and field. He served in the U.S. Army for 18 months, ultimately as a sergeant. Nipon received a degree in accounting from Temple University in 1951, where he was a four-year varsity letter winner in football, wrestling and track and field.

In 1952, Albert Nipon met Pearl at an Atlantic City, N.J., hotel party. “He saw her and picked her up and threw her in the swimming pool, fully dressed,” said their son Larry Nipon. They married in 1953. Together they raised a large family and built a major fashion company based in Philadelphia. Pearl Nipon died in 2018 at age 90.

Pearl Nipon had been designing maternity clothing under the name Ma Mere, and Albert Nipon left his accounting job at DuPont in 1955 to manage the business. That business grew into a successful enterprise before it began to struggle. Pearl Nipon left the business to raise her children, but her husband convinced her to make a comeback.

According to Larry Nipon, Ma Mere’s most important client asked Albert if he would consider taking some of the best Ma Mere styles and convert them to career dresses, to accommodate the women who were entering the executive workforce. Around 1972, when separates and pant suits were at their peak of popularity, the Nipons decided to focus on the dress, a business that eventually exploded for them.

The Albert Nipon label would become well known for its use of pussycat bows, elegant collars, cuffs, tucks and pleats. Their risk paid off and at its peak Albert Nipon was generating $60 million in annual dress sales. In addition to Saks and Bergdorf’s, the dresses were sold at 1,000 stores including I. Magnin, Neiman Marcus, Bonwit Teller, Sakowitz and Lord & Taylor. The business eventually expanded to include Nipon Boutique, a dress collection at more modest prices, and Nipon Collectibles, which were separates.

In 1987, Ira Neimark, then-president of Bergdorf’s, told WWD that it was opening a designer shop for Albert Nipon which ranked in the store’s top five dress resources, and “possibly top three.”

“It’s a good dress company and a good dress line. We have a very strong dress business. Therefore a line like Nipon properly programmed has worked out exceptionally well,” said Neimark.

Celebrities such as Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara Walters and Rosalynn Carter wore Albert Nipon’s designs, and the label became one of the most popular of its time. Albert Nipon, regarded as a tough businessman, focused on running the business and Pearl was head of design.

But then the company faced some major problems.

In 1984, Albert Nipon was indicted for tax evasion and bribery. Nipon pleaded guilty in May 1985 to falsifying tax returns and to paying $200,000 to two Internal Revenue Service Agents to avoid paying about $500,000 in personal taxes and $300,000 in corporate taxes. He agreed to pay the back taxes and was sentenced to three years in a minimum security prison in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

When Albert Nipon returned to the business in 1987, the company was in the midst of trying to recover from the emotional and financial sting of his 20 months in prison.

“My coming back allows Larry to get more involved with marketing and sales, and it allows Pearl to get more involved with her designing and the creative end,” Albert Nipon told WWD in 1987. “Frankly I don’t know how they could have done what they’ve been doing. In addition to taking care of our personal matters and business matters that normally I would be taking care of.”

He said at the time that the comeback wouldn’t be complete until his company regained its stronghold in the dress market, which had suffered during Albert’s time in prison. “While I was away I think we got a little off course,” he said. “We got a little too price-driven.”

Ron Frasch, who at the time was a general merchandise manager for women’s apparel at Neiman Marcus, told WWD in 1987 upon Nipon’s return from jail: “You’ve got to remember that without Albert Nipon there never would have been a better dress market. They have always been an important resource. They still are.”

But the company experienced a series of setbacks and financial losses and never fully recovered. In 1988, Albert Nipon declared bankruptcy as a result of a $3.7 million jeopardy assessment by the IRS, and was sold that year to the Leslie Fay Co., which allowed the Nipons to continue running the design business.

Later in his life, Albert Nipon got involved with the Home Shopping Network in fashion marketing and product placement, and parlayed his industry relationships and knowledge into that channel, said Larry Nipon.

Larry Nipon, who is chief executive officer of Zer0 Frixion, which works with companies on revenue and cost management performance, recalled Monday that his father always found something positive in situations where few could. “If he couldn’t find it, he’d create it. He turned every adversity into an opportunity.”

He said no one could ever remember a time when they heard Albert complain. “Albert lived for two things, his family and his work. He wasn’t a man of many interests. His passion for and devotion to those two things left little room for anything else,” said Larry Nipon.

He also recollected the devotion and loyalty exhibited by their many employees. “They loved and respected him and they stayed with him and Pearl for decades. They were his and Pearl’s extended family.”

Stan Herman recalled Monday, “Albert was a mover and shaker. He never left any dust under his feet. He had Pearl, who was a magnificent commercial designer and was one of the best in the business.

“They were a team. He respected designers and he knew a good designer could make his profile that much higher,” Herman said. He noted that Nipon was also involved with home shopping. “He never stopped.” He recalled that when Nipon served time in jail, “it was a shock, but most of the industry handled it gentlemanly.”

Reached for comment Monday, Frasch, who now has his own consulting firm, Ron Frasch Consulting, said, “Albert was an amazing man. He really built a company back when companies had a lot of competition. He was a philanthropist, a great father and a really kind person who was very generous with me over the years in offering advice and counsel.”

He said about Nipon’s time in jail: “It was unfortunate but Albert came back with a big smile on his face and the support of Philadelphia, and moved on with his life.”

Albert Nipon was a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan, and even when his health was failing, friends and family would join him in his home on Sunday to watch the Eagles and enjoy his traditional bagels and lox brunch.

In addition to Larry and his wife, Lois, Albert Nipon is survived by his sons Leon and Andrew and his wife, Nancy; daughter Barbara Joy and her husband Craig Spencer, along with nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Louis Vuitton Scores Big With Campaign Featuring Cristiano Ronaldo And Lionel Messi

Louis Vuitton’s brand campaign featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi is scoring big online.

Since the two soccer stars posted the image showing them playing a game of chess on Saturday, the French luxury house’s campaign has gone viral, racking up a combined 72 million likes on Instagram: 38 million on Ronaldo’s account, 29 million on Messi’s and more than 5 million on the Vuitton account.

In the wake of the ad, Ronaldo became the first person to pass 500 million followers on Instagram. Messi is the second most-followed person with 377 million. Although Ronaldo’s post has yet to beat the world record for the most-liked online post, which is held by @world_record_egg’s picture of an egg with 55.9 million likes, it’s already delivering rich returns.

Ronaldo’s post had a media impact value of $2.8 million in the first 48 hours, according to the Launchmetrics scoring system that assigns a monetary value to every post, interaction or article about a brand to measure its performance and impact.

Messi’s post had a value of $2.6 million, and Vuitton’s post was worth $1.1 million, according to the data and insights firm, which estimated the total MIV of the campaign at $13.5 million, based mainly on media reports about the ad.

Under the tag line “Victory Is a State of Mind,” the campaign was photographed by Annie Leibovitz and broke on Saturday, ahead of the opening day of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. It’s in the lineage of its 2010 Core Values campaign featuring legendary players Pelé, Maradona and Zinedine Zidane playing table football.

The concept was the brainchild of Antoine Arnault, head of communication and image at parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, who introduced the influential Core Values campaign, starring iconic personalities such as Bono, Mikhail Gorbachev and Angelina Jolie, during his tenure as communications director at Vuitton.

“Bringing these two living legends together, these two modern-day gladiators, had been a longtime dream of mine. I always knew that only the Core Values campaign by Louis Vuitton, the most iconic maison in the world, could do them justice,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The idea of them coming together to play chess came to me after watching my 15-year-old stepson spend hours watching chess championship games on YouTube,” said Arnault, who is married to Russian model and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova, referring to his stepson Viktor Portman.

“I thought that, under Annie Leibovitz’s unique lens, the result could be nothing but legendary. This photo’s beauty goes beyond my wildest expectations but its success on social networks doesn’t surprise me,” he added.

Messi and Ronaldo are shown staring intently at chess pieces placed on the checkerboard canvas of a Louis Vuitton Damier attaché case. Vuitton worked with Bruce Pandolfini, the chess teacher who consulted on the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” to determine the positions of the chess pieces in the picture.

Eagle-eyed aficionados spotted that it mirrors a famous match between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura from 2017, which ended in a draw, suggesting that it is impossible to declare either Ronaldo or Messi the world’s greatest footballer.

Between 2008 and 2017, the two players between them claimed every Ballon d’Or, the award given to the world’s best male footballer, and Messi has won it twice more since then. Heading into the World Cup, the stakes are high for Messi, 35, and Ronaldo, 37, since neither has won the sport’s most coveted prize despite their individual achievements.

The World Cup has been dogged with controversy over allegations of corruption at FIFA and questions over host country Qatar’s record on human rights, prompting many brands to keep a low profile during the competition.

Vuitton, which has a history of making trophy cases for sports including tennis, basketball, rugby and Formula 1, has had a partnership with FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, since 2010. In addition to designing the travel case for the World Cup trophy, it has launched a capsule collection of soccer-themed leather goods.

Balmain Resort 2023

Egypt seems to be having a moment in the fashion world, and Olivier Rousteing is throwing his gilded scarabs into the mix.

What a sight to behold if his sculptural, iridescent turquoise gown, with its quivering 3D scales resembling crocodile skin, were to glide across the desert at golden hour with the Great Pyramids as a backdrop?

Equally striking would be his famous friend Beyoncé rocking one of his heavily embroidered gold minidresses or bolero jackets on stage. (He memorably designed a glittering Egyptian bodysuit, cape and headdress for the singer’s 2018 Coachella performance.)

Rousteing finished his latest Egypt-inspired effort last May, but ultimately decided to withhold imagery until its retail release this month. While his pre-collection includes plenty of knits, which now account for 40 percent of Balmain’s ready-to-wear business, the designer also met customer demand for exceptional couture pieces.

Bravo to the Balmain atelier for its patience and skill embroidering micro beads so fine that the shoulders of his gowns look shaped from polished grains of sand.

There was also painstaking draping and knotting techniques applied to the T-shirts and jersey gowns, among the more accessible and affordable looks in this vast and diverse collection.

Rousteing has made his Balmain fashions increasingly autobiographical, and linked to his missions. While his runway blowout for spring 2023 during Paris Fashion Week, the one featuring Cher, put the spotlight on the designer’s sustainability ambitions, his use of rustic, natural fabrics including linen and organic cotton started with this pre-collection, employed for tailoring and languid pajama-style dressing.

His bandage dresses for spring 2022 — cathartic designs following his recovery from disfiguring burns after a fireplace explosion — were reprised as uber-chic mummy dressing. “It’s now part of my DNA,” he noted.

(He also must have still been in a Jean Paul Gaultier frame of mind following his one-off couture show for the house last January: He included a long black kilt, picked out with demonstrative top stitching.)

Rousteing noted that founder Pierre Balmain referenced Egyptian culture in the 1950s, so this ancient civilization is also part of the brand lore. “I love Egypt because there’s maximalism and minimalism, and the contrast is incredible,” he enthused.