Why Gucci’s New Creative Director Counts Princess Diana Among His Muses

In November 2022, Sabato De Sarno, now 40, was approached about a mysterious opportunity at Kering, the multinational luxury conglomerate whose portfolio includes the fashion brands Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Gucci and Saint Laurent. “They called me for an interview without telling me the brand,” he says — or the role. Alessandro Michele’s departure as the creative director of Gucci hadn’t yet been announced. Eventually, of course, the nature of the job became clear, and “it was more than I expected for my life,” De Sarno says. “After I signed the contract, I slept with it in my bed because, during the night, I just wanted to check whether it was there or not.”

De Sarno grew up in Cicciano, Italy, a small village near Naples, the first of three boys raised by his mother, Maria, and father, Raffaele. By his own account, he struggled to express himself; young, gay and interested in fashion, De Sarno felt out of place. At 19, he moved to Milan to study design and patternmaking at the Istituto Secoli. He did stints at Prada and Dolce & Gabbana before, in 2009, making a more permanent home at Valentino in Rome. During his 14-year tenure there, he cycled upward through various departments until he became the label’s fashion director and the right-hand man of its creative director, Pierpaolo Piccioli.

Recently, Gucci announced that the company will relocate the design office from Rome to Milan, where De Sarno feels most at home. “I have a deep love story with Milan,” he says. “It’s where Sabato came to be the real Sabato.” Not surprisingly, his Gucci debut in September felt decidedly Milanese, marking a transition from full-tilt maximalism to his own interpretation of the city’s understated luxury. The collection features thigh-grazing baby-doll dresses; logo-print micro shorts; swinging, tinsel-trimmed skirts; and coats in shades of burgundy and chartreuse. “I’m not the kind of person who comes into a meeting and says, ‘I like this, I don’t like that.’ Or, ‘I’ll be back tomorrow — I need a day to think about a white shirt,’” he says. “I want to touch everything. I want to choose the fabric and see the embroidery. I want to be a part of a process.”

At top: “This picture brings together three things I love: [the British photographer] David [Sims], [the Ukrainian Canadian model] Daria [Werbowy] and the Chateau [Marmont, the hotel in Los Angeles]. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, I used to cut out David’s pictures from magazines. Daria was the first model I met, in 2003, at her Prada debut. I was like a groupie. I have a picture with her backstage — I was 20 and she was 19. To me, she represented unconventional beauty. When I decided to do my first campaign for Gucci, putting Daria and David together was like my own little dream come true.”

Credit…From left: courtesy of Sabato De Sarno (2); Neil Setchfield/Alamy

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