CNN  — 

Gucci has named fashion designer Sabato De Sarno as its new creative director, ending months of speculation about who would take on one of fashion’s most coveted roles.

Announcing the move in a joint press release Saturday, the Italian label and its parent company, Kering, said the 39-year-old will be responsible for “defining and expressing the House’s creative vision.”

The appointment came as something of a surprise to industry insiders. Though De Sarno is known in fashion circles for his work at Valentino, where he currently oversees menswear and womenswear under creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, the Naples-born designer has yet to helm a major label and has a relatively limited public profile.

In a statement, De Sarno said he was “deeply honored” to take the role, which will see him steer Gucci’s women’s and men’s collections while also overseeing its leather goods, accessories and lifestyle divisions.

“I am proud to join a House with such an extraordinary history and heritage, that over the years has been able to welcome and cherish values I believe in,” he added.

It has been just over two months since Alessandro Michele announced he was stepping down as Gucci’s creative director after almost eight years. De Sarno’s predecessor was also considered a surprise appointment in 2015, though he helped revive and transform the Italian label’s fortunes, heralding an era of colorful, maximalist and increasingly genderfluid collections.

Michele’s tenure also coincided with a huge uptick in sales. Kering owns numerous other luxury brands — including Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Saint Laurent, among others — but Gucci now accounts for about two-thirds of the group’s profits, generating reported revenues of 9.7 billion euros ($10.5 billion) in 2021.

Gucci's show at Men's Fashion Week in Milan earlier this month was its first since the departure of De Sarno's predecessor, Alessandro Michele.

Although not set to publish its 2022 earnings until next month, the label has struggled to bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic as forcefully as competitors like LVMH. The brand is also looking to secure its footing in China, which is now estimated to account for about one-third of its sales.

Earlier this month, Gucci unveiled its first new collection since Michele’s departure, opening Men’s Fashion Week in Milan with a comparatively pared-back Fall-Winter 2023 collection. De Sarno is not expected to present his debut runway collection until Milan Fashion Week in September, and he will not join the label until he has “completed all his obligations” at Valentino, Kering said. De Sarno joined the label in 2009, following stints at Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, and currently serves as fashion director.

Beyond Gucci, Kering has a track record of appointing relative outsiders to top jobs, such as Demna Gvasalia and Matthieu Blazy. Both have gone on to make their marks as creative directors at Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta, respectively.

Gucci’s president and CEO, Marco Bizzarri, noted De Sarno’s “vast and relevant experience,” adding: “I am certain that … he will lead our creative teams with a distinctive vision that will help write this exciting next chapter, reinforcing the House’s fashion authority while capitalizing on its rich heritage.”

Kering’s chairman & CEO, the French billionaire François-Henri Pinault, meanwhile said: “With Sabato De Sarno at the creative helm, we are confident that the House will continue both to influence fashion and culture through highly desirable products and collections, and to bring a singular and contemporary perspective to modern luxury.”