Twins. Gucci SS23

In the minutes before Gucci’s spring-summer 2023 show, an email came in. “Welcome to Twinsburg,” read the subject line. Alessandro Michele’s concept this season was a reflection on identity and otherness. Michele, it turns out, is the child of an identical twin. “I am the son of two mothers,” the show notes began. Mum Eralda and Mum Giuliana “shared a genetic solidarity but, above all, they shared an intimacy which was inaccessible to others.” There’s something captivating, even uncanny, about twins – we’ve all seen the photo of Michele and his friend Jared Leto, tuxedoed doppelgängers at the 2022 Met Gala. The Gucci creative director played up the intrigue here, dividing the audience in two via a partition lined floor to ceiling with portraits of twins and look-alikes by Mark Peckmezian and staging two simultaneous shows without either half understanding until the last models made their way down the runway. Then the wall of photos lifted, revealing another set of bleachers and another set of models wearing identical looks. For the finale, the twins emerged from opposite sides of the set, stretched their arms across the runway, and joined hands.

In true Michele fashion, the collection’s 68 looks didn’t need doubles to make an impact. He worked his way through strict tailoring, souped-up activewear, Hollywood Boulevard glitz, embroidered chinoiserie, red carpet glam, and country quilting, among other motifs. The sequined jacket that announced FUORI!!! was Michele’s nod to an early 1970s magazine produced by the Fronte Unitario Omosessuale Rivoluzionario Italiano, and the stuffed animal handbags were Gremlins, stars of the 1980s black comedy of the same name. A helpful fellow journo pointed out that the Gremlins had a propensity for multiplying, which gets back to Michele’s explorations around identity. He pointed out another twinning detail in the men’s garter pants that revealed a bare expanse of upper thigh. Garters are historically associated with women’s hosiery; we aren’t used to seeing that part of a man’s anatomy. Highly eclectic visual allure and conceptual interpretations aside, it’s the solidarity of twins that Michele was really tapped into. In his post-show press conference, he seemed troubled by the climate crisis, growing anti-gay sentiment, and the renewed threat of nuclear war. “Clothes are not enough,” he said, adding that the filial atmosphere backstage was “therapeutic” for him and his team. “When we are many, we are much stronger,” he argued. This show made you believe it.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Cosmogonies. Gucci Resort 2023

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.

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Do You Even Care? Gucci AW22

It’s infuriating how huge brands that preach values of “inclusivity”, “love” and “peace” choose to stay silent in case of Russian invasion of Ukraine. I had a different attitude towards labels that showed their collections and decided to stay silent on the first day of the conflict (like Prada) – everybody was confused. But now is the high time to act, and most of the Western European fashion companies and insiders still pretend to be asleep. Gucci‘s silence is telling – not a single social media post in plain sight that would acknowledge the disheartening situation. Why is that? Kering and other luxury conglomerates are just too scared they won’t sell another pair of shoes to its major customer target, largely located in Russia, which supports Putin’s war crime towards Ukraine. As simple as that.

Alessandro Michele‘s autumn-winter 2022 fashion show failed to share any gesture of solidarity with Ukrainians, even though I thought he would be the first to do that in the industry. Possibly, his good intentions might have been tamed by the upper company structures. The distaste caused by the tone-deafness is one thing. In general, this line-up was one of the most mediocre collections coming from the designer in a while. The message for this collection, entitled “Exquisite Gucci“, was suits for all, with male and female models wearing versions of the Gucci sartorial two-piece. Alongside this focus on tailoring was a collaboration with Addidas Originals, which saw the sportswear brand’s iconic three stripes splashed over sharp cut suits, on leather gloves and baseball caps, or forming a dramatic V down the front of a corset dress. To be honest, most of the looks felt uninspiring, and I feel like we’ve seen enough of fashion collabs with Adidas in the last couple of years.

Back to really important stuff. If you want to spread awareness or help and support Ukraine, here are some useful links:

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/ways-to-help-ukraine-conflict/

https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/countries/ukraine

https://www.rescue.org/article/how-can-i-help-ukraine

https://www.gov.pl/web/udsc/ukraina-en

Also, big love to independent, small and medium-sized brands like Magda Butrym, Collina Strada and MISBHV that will donate 100% of its profits to aid humanitarian crisis in Ukraine in the following days. Any action counts, big or small!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Love Parade. Gucci SS22

Alessandro Michele‘s latest Gucci adventures are just beyond words. Going for extreme glamour after nearly two years of lockdown style is the best thing one can come up with for spring-summer 2022. But Michele pushed the envelope in festive dressing even further. Gucci’s name has long been linked with Hollywood, long before the upcoming “House of Gucci” film starring Lady Gaga, and its connection with the movies was everywhere you looked at Alessandro Michele’s fab fashion show. There, in the front row, was Gwyneth Paltrow, wearing an updated version of the Tom Ford-designed red velvet Gucci tux she sported circa 1996. And there, on the runway, were a dozen celebrity “friends of Gucci,” including Macaulay Culkin, Miranda July, Jodie Turner-Smith, Phoebe Bridgers and Jared Leto. The backdrop was the iconic Chinese Theater and Hollywood Boulevard itself – “that temple of the gods,” Michele called it. The designer credits his mother, a movie buff and an assistant in a production company, with encouraging his love of old Hollywood. But equally this collection was about contemporary Los Angeles, a place the designer first visited at the age of 27 and that he has much affection for. “LA is not a fashion city, but it’s so fashionable,” he said backstage before the show. “Sometimes they are not appropriate, but in being not appropriate they are so precise. Maybe it belongs to my way of looking at fashion – it’s personal.” When it was finally time to return to in-person shows after two seasons of the virtual experiences that lockdowns required, Los Angeles seemed the obvious choice. Seven years into his Gucci tenure, he’s presented in New York, Paris, Rome, and most often Milan, but Michele’s collections have never made more sense than this one did tonight on Hollywood Boulevard, with its neon lights and Walk of Stars. At the post-show press conference, Michele said he originally wanted to be a costume designer. He spent part of the day today at the freshly opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, where he admired a bow-covered Shirley Temple dress, among other pieces. On the topic of special occasion dresses, it’s fair to say he raised the bar for himself this season. With their cinematic sweep, if his gowns don’t make it to a museum, we’ll surely be seeing them soon on an awards show red carpet. With his hungry eye, he’s absorbed all manner of Hollywood tropes, and mixed in with the screen sirens were would-be stars fresh off the bus in calico dresses, with dreams as big as their 10-gallon cowboy hats. “My Hollywood is in the streets,” he said, and the sartorial-sporty mix of wide-lapeled jackets worn with brightly colored knit leggings and running sneakers did look lifted from real life, combining post-pandemic polish with the famous California ease. As for the sex-toy jewelry, and the erotic undercurrent of skintight latex and see-through lace, Michele reminded the press conference crowd that Gucci isn’t a “monarchy of bourgeois” like many of its heritage brand peers, but has its roots in the “jet-set, artists, and cinema.” As Madonna once sang, “you get it right now, cause you’re in Hollywood”…

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Fake Is Real. Balenciaga SS22

Balenciaga‘s Demna Gvasalia wouldn’t be Demna Gvasalia if he didn’t sprinkle a pinch of irony to his fashion. “It’s a deep fake of a fashion show,” declared the designer ahead of the launch of the ultra-high-tech video for his spring-summer 2022 “Clones” collection. “What we see online is not what it is. What’s real and what’s fake?” Ostensibly, one model – the artist Eliza Douglas, who has opened or closed Balenciaga shows since Gvasalia’s first collection for the house in 2016 – appears wearing both women’s and menswear on a white runway in front of a black-clad audience. But no one was “there” and no one is “real.” “It’s a show that never happened,” Gvasalia laughed. “But the clothes are real; they were made.” Accompanying information came in a deluge of language detailing the techniques the video producer Quentin Deronzier deployed to fake up Douglas’s appearance: photogrammetry, C.G. grafting of her scanned face, planar tracking, rotoscoping, machine learning, and 3D modeling. We’re in a new world now, in large part because all designers have had to grapple with 15 months of the pandemic preventing real-life show gatherings. What’s the alternative onscreen? Gvasalia, for one, has delighted in grabbing the opportunity to shift the medium of brand Balenciaga ever further into the realms of multilevel, conversation-and-meme-generating entertainment. There’s the Hacker Project – this season’s return match with Gucci, in which Balenciaga has “stolen” classic Gucci bag shapes and reprinted them with BBs instead of GGs, just as Alessandro Michele reproduced Demna Balenciaga patterns and diagonal branding in his last collection. There’s a Gucci best seller GG buckle belt redone with BBs too. “Alessandro and I are very different,” Gvaslia remarked. “But we both like to question this whole question around branding and appropriation…because everyone does it, whether they say it or not.” One of the totes comes knowingly scrawled with the graffiti legend “This is not a Gucci bag” – a reference to René Magritte’s 1929 painting The Treachery of Images. Questioning the authenticity of what we’re looking at has been going on in art since Surrealist times. The result here: a perfectly oxymoronic range of “genuine counterfeits” for our mind-twisted times. Other than the Gucci clash, there’s no mistaking Gvasalia’s roster of signatures: the supersized tailoring and coats; the loose printed dresses; the ski jackets, hoodies, and streetwear; the cyber-Gothic denim; the severely elegant eveningwear. With them, a vast range of distinctive Balenciaga accessories, from a reissue of the Crocs collaboration to the diamanté bow jewelry that originated in the house archive. There’s a part of Gvasalia that wanted to illuminate his fake runway with a bit of light and hope, he said. The first look to step out, in black velvet with a heavy veil, refers back to his prophetically apocalyptic show of February 2020. “It’s almost like mourning something, where we’ve all been,” he said. “But I wanted it to go into a bright space. And I ended it with a red ballroom dress.” After the retreat of the Balenciaga clones, he has the exact opposite planned: the showing of his much-anticipated first haute couture show, in real life, in Paris in early July. Handmade, in the works for more than a year, in front of a small audience, it’ll be his next big creative step forward. Can’t wait.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.