21 Questions for the New Gucci Designer

Last January, two months after Alessandro Michele shocked the fashion world by announcing he was leaving Gucci, a brand he had transformed into a trendsetter with $10 billion in revenue in 2022, the company named his successor, and that too shocked the fashion world. Who was this man, Sabato De Sarno, who would be stepping into Mr. Michele’s fur-lined, logo-ed Gucci slides?

Little is known beyond basic biographical facts: Mr. De Sarno started his career at Prada before moving to Dolce & Gabbana and then Valentino, where he spent almost 14 years, ultimately becoming the fashion director in charge of men’s and women’s ready-to-wear.

Which is why, when I had the chance to sit down with Mr. De Sarno before his first Gucci show, I seized the moment to play 21 questions. Here is what I learned, in edited form, below.

What is your first memory?

I was about 7, in the small village I come from in the countryside, close to Naples. I was on a Vespa with my grandfather, just riding around, talking. He died 10 years ago, and we were very close. I have his name. When the announcement came out about Gucci, it made me very emotional because my father said, “I know Sabato would be very proud to read his name in the magazines.”

What is your favorite food?

Eggplant Parmesan from my mother. She is the best cook in the world. She uses it to convince me to visit her in Como, where they live now. She says, “If you come home, I can make it for you.” And always, she wins. I’m a terrible cook.

What else are you bad at?

I really like to drive, but people say I am a terrible driver. In Rome, I get around on city bikes.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?


What is the first thing you do in the morning?

I have a dachshund named Lucia, and she loves to sleep close to my feet. When I wake up, she just comes up, and we spend two or three minutes cuddling.

Do you sing in the shower?

Yes, pop music. This morning I was singing a song by Romy from the xx.

How did you celebrate your last birthday?

I just had my 40th birthday. It was at a nightclub. I love dance clubs. It was at the end of Valentino, the beginning of Gucci, and I decided to get together my colleagues, my family and my friends.

Relationship status?

I got married five years ago. My husband is a lawyer in Brussels at the European Union. We see each other on weekends. It works very well because when we stay together, we really have quality time: just me and him and our dog. We don’t fight very often because if we fight, we need to make a peace before leaving. We’re very opposite people, but I love that. It gives me the chance to know different things.

What piece of clothing have you had the longest?

A dark navy worker’s jacket I bought on Portobello Road when I was 19. It was the first moment I bought something as a piece of my wardrobe. I still wear it.

Mr. De Sarno walking his dachshund Lucia in the Brera neighborhood of Milan this month. Credit…Valeria Cherchi for The New York Times

Do you have a uniform?

White sneakers from the brand I am working on, or Converse. Black Levi’s and a black T-shirt in the summer and black sweater in the winter.

Wait … isn’t that the uniform of Pierpaolo Piccioli, your former boss at Valentino?

It’s the same as Pierpaolo, but I did it before him. During the day I need to make so many decisions about clothes and styling that I prefer something that is very easy. When I travel, I just pack five black T shirts, three trousers. Also, I don’t like to be too present in places. I like to blend in. But the funny thing is, I really love shopping. I love to buy crazy stuff.

What do you buy?

I just bought a lot of pieces of Raf Simons because it’s his last collection and I love his shapes and his way to do men’s wear. [Mr. Simons closed his namesake label at the end of 2022.] But then I just wear it for one hour or two in the house and put it away because I don’t like to go out like that. It’s strange, I know.

I also have a large collection of coats. I have about 200. I started very early to collect coats. The first one I bought was a prototype when I worked at Miu Miu. It looks like a coat, except it has no pockets.

Do you have any tattoos?

Four. On my right forearm, an Ellsworth Kelly flower, because I love Ellsworth Kelly. On my left wrist, a star, which was the first one my mother allowed me to get, and the number 3, which I got with my two good friends and they also have. Then higher up on that arm, “Ancora,” which I just got.

It means again. It’s a word I use a lot. Not “again” as in the past, but “again” as when you enjoy something and you want more. It is the name of my first collection for Gucci.

Who was the first person you told when you got the Gucci job?

My husband. It was a very emotional moment. We were crying. He said, “I knew that it would happen.” I could hardly believe it. After I put my signature on the contract, I slept with it because I dream a lot, and sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I say, “Was it real or not?” But with my hand on the paper, I’d know it was real.

What has surprised you about Gucci so far?

The hugeness of the brand. OK, from outside you see that, but you don’t really feel it until you have meetings with every single team around the world. I’m very open, and I don’t have any system about meeting with my team. I’m Sabato, you just come in the door.

But I remember the first week I was at Gucci was strange because no one talked to me. They all wanted to make appointments. I finally just told everyone: “OK, I know I’m the creative director, but I was in your role just two weeks before. You don’t have to wait for a meeting.”

Alessandro Michele (center) with Jared Leto and members of the Italian rock band Maneskin, all wearing Mr. Michele’s Gucci designs, in Los Angeles in 2022.Credit…Charley Gallay/Getty Images For Lacma/Getty Images For Lacma

What is going to surprise people about your Gucci?

I think the first thing is I’m more real. I don’t want to build another world. I don’t like sets. I like when I see people in the street with my clothes. In fact, the first show is going to be in the street. Also, we have a new brand color: red. I love it.

Do you have a personal motto?

Avanti. Go ahead.

What’s your favorite form of exercise?

I’m not really a sporty person. When I decide to start a sport, I go and buy all the stuff to make a nice look. I decided to swim, for example, because I started to think my shoulders were becoming too hunchy, so I bought the swimsuit, the nose plugs, the ear plugs, the towels. But then after three lessons … that’s it.

What is your favorite book?

It depends on the moment. I like Elena Ferrante because of the way she describes my city, Naples. I am reading a book by James Baldwin, “Giovanni’s Room.” And I read the Obama biographies — Michelle and Barack — at the same time. He reminds me of my husband.

What did your husband give you for your birthday?

A Cartier Love bracelet. I don’t really like to wear jewelry, but I like to wear this.

What is the best gift you have ever given?

I bought a house for my parents in Como, where they live now. Honestly, I’m so proud about that. They are all coming to the show. My family — I have two younger brothers and two nephews — represents to me the place where I feel safe and I can be myself.

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