Once upon a time (last Monday), a tribe of cosmic goddesses and priests landed in Puglia and inhabited Castel del Monte – the extraordinary, 13th century castle that actually looks like an alien spaceship. All thanks to Gucci and its resort 2023 fashion show event. Alessandro Michele’s line of reasoning has never been linear. The collections he creates are prismatic affairs, as visually diverse as they are infused by meanings sometimes impervious to easy deciphering. His fascination for layered references and his love of history make him a collector of objects and memories, an archivist of galaxies of images. Not surprisingly, he called this collection “Cosmogonies“. At Gucci, Michele has brought his collections to places of esoteric, disquieting charm – the Promenade des Alycamps in Arles, an ancient necropolis, or Rome’s Musei Capitolini overlooking the Fori Imperiali, where archeological remains give off vibes of splendor and decay. But as far as magical thinking goes, Castel del Monte surely upstages his previous settings. In the castle’s timelessly edgy construction, the number eight was obsessively repeated as an arcane bearer of meaning. It goes without saying that Michele was drawn to the genius loci of this rather setting. “I was looking for a place which gave grace to the mythological,” he explained. “It’s a site where measurements and proportions cross each other as if by magic – the same way measurements of collars and jackets can be somehow magical.” For Michele, the mystery of Castel del Monte resonates with the enigmatic genesis of his creativity, “which operates through the need of putting together constellations of signs and symbols.” Michele’s collections seem to be part of a complex, well orchestrated flux of consciousness, gelled into attractive visual dénouements. While widely Instagram-compelling and immediate, they’re often substantiated by high-falutin, erudite citations. The idea of “cosmogonies of constellations” was born after a reading of German philosopher Hannah Arendt’s essay on Walter Benjamin, whose library was confiscated by the Gestapo, leaving him unable to access to the eclectic network of other people’s thoughts that nurtured his entire oeuvre.
Michele has often built on the tension and vitality of the past to write his own version of the present. “Clothes are mediums, strata of languages,” he said. “Today, ‘making fashion’ doesn’t mean just being a tailor, or chronicling just a one-dimensional narration. Putting together a collection has to do with talking about your idea of the world, because fashion is deeply connected to life and to humanity. Fashion isn’t just a hieroglyph that only élites can understand. It’s about life, it speaks a multitude of idioms, it’s like a huge choir from which nobody has to be excluded. It’s like being at sea, in the ocean, and casting out someone or something is not being fair to the complexity of life.” The designer’s journey this season manifested in a show intended “as a rave,” he explained, where his skills as a costume designer were boosted by the theatricality exuded by the location. “I thought the castle shouldn’t be kept shrouded in silence, but had to be lived and celebrated as it probably was when it was built, a sort of California, the Silicon Valley of the time.” Under a serendipitous full moon, his constellation of characters paraded around the fortress, lit by projections of stars and galaxies. While the idea of cosmogony was only tangentially translated into actual shapes or decorations, the designer’s recurrent theme of metamorphosis was hinted at through unobtrusive prosthetic insertions in some dresses, and also by an unrelenting, flowing panoply of divergences. Chatelaines and go-go girls, demure bourgeois ladies and spectacular nocturnal creatures, long-limbed lovers of bondage sheathed in thigh-high, laced-up stiletto-boots and romantic heroïnes swathed in yards of velvet—it was a feast of coherent discordances, tied together by historical references (portrait collars, plissé gorgets, crusaders’ capes, trains, and medieval crinolines) and by the “incendiary shimmer,” as he called it, of luminous textures under the light. “Women have often worn constellations on their bodies,” Michele said in a sort of conceptual pirouette. “Just think of Marilyn Monroe’s famous last dress studded with crystals; she looked like the beautiful tail of an impalpable comet.” What comes around goes around, but no one performs past-to-present magic quite like Michele.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.