Aria. Gucci AW21

Gucci turns 100 this year, and Alessandro Michele’s new collection is a very bold and sexy celebration of that milestone. Not unexpectedly it reexamines the house’s history. Michele picked up on Gucci’s equestrian codes, giving them a fetishistic spin – one model cracked their whip as they made their way down the runway. He also reprised one of Tom Ford’s greatest hits, the red velvet tuxedo from autumn-winter 1996, with tweaks including new, more pronounced shoulders, a leather harness, and versions for both men and women. More surprising were the pieces that Michele “quoted” from Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga, another brand in the Kering stable. As the show began and social media started pinging with chatter about the collaboration, a press representative clarified that this was not in fact one of fashion’s familiar hookups but rather the first output from Michele’s so-called hacking lab. With Gvasalia’s permission, Michele used some of the Balenciaga designer’s iconic shapes and symbols, including the padded hip jacket from 2016 and spring 2017’s spandex peplum top and leggings. All these things mixed and mingled with his own symbols (glitter for day, copious amounts of marabou, and anatomical heart minaudières encrusted with rhinestones) alongside a vital new emphasis on classic tailoring. In that hacking, Michele has something in common with the sample-loving musicians on his soundtrack (from Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” to Die Antwoord and Dita Von Teese’s “Gucci Coochie). But it’s a rarer occurrence in fashion, a point made clear by a written statement from François-Henri Pinault, Kering’s chairman and CEO: “I have seen how [Alessandro and Demna’s] innovative, inclusive, and iconoclastic visions are aligned with the expectations and desires of people today,” he said. “Those visions are reflected not only in their creative offerings but also in their ability to raise questions about our times and its conventions.” The industry will be watching how, with whom, and where this concept goes next. Gucci is as pop as fashion brands can be. Michele gets that on a fundamental level, and he understandably relishes that he’s a culture maker as much as a designer of clothes and accessories. “Young people look at the brand as a platform, a place. They visualize Gucci a million different ways, a million different times,” he told Vogue. Hence the music video he made with his friend, the filmmaker Floria Sigismondi. After walking the gauntlet of old-fashioned cameras that lined the runway, like superstars working a red carpet, the models paused in a darkened anteroom before pouring out into an imaginary forest where they cavorted with white horses, peacocks, and cockatoos. The film closes with one of those crystalized heart minaudières lifting into the air. It’s a post-pandemic dreamscape. And finally, a great example of a fashion (show) film.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Daydream. Celine AW21

Hedi Slimane wouldn’t be himself if he wasn’t obsessed with youth – even for a moment. But there was something unexpectedly intriguing about his Celine vision of lockdown-era teenagers, who are totally fed up with the real world and induldge in fancy, Disney-like daydreaming. Definitely, the collection’s video was a highlight. The audienceless show was set amongst the breathtaking gardens of the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte, some 55 kilometers outside Paris. The always-sad Hedi girls walked casually past the exquisite formal fountains and pools landscaped centuries ago by André Le Nôtre. It’s landed as a sequel to the last Celine menswear show, in which Slimane’s young chevaliers roamed the battlements of the Château Chambord in the Loire valley. Clothes-wise, this collection was rather usual Slimane offering. Traditionally, the uniform Parisian wardrobe is paced out and remixed in that on-point manner that has made French girl-style the envy of the world. It’s that knack of pairing something posh that might have belonged to your mom or dad with something casual. Throwing on a tweed hacking jacket or trench coat with exactly the right cut of bashed-up old jeans is also always a good idea. The new additions included nods to princess wardrobe: a heavily embellished ball-skirt worn with a heavy leather biker jacket, for instance. There was a line in Slimane’s show notes which alluded to a “utopian parade and melancholic daydream of youth interrupted.” It ran after quotes from Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud – France’s decadent, libertine poets eternally famed for exalting the excess and pain of misspent youth. In a time when parties, clubs, festivals, and events have been banned for so long, the show ended with a shift to a fairy-tale scenario. A girl in a glittering, hand-beaded crinoline stood looking toward the chateau with fireworks exploding in the sky. There was a deer by her side, a tear on her cheek. There’ll be nowhere for the princess to wear that couture-ish crinoline yet – definitely not in locked-down Europe. Let her dream, at least.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Domestic Glam. Ashish AW21

Brands and designers throw around the ‘stay-at-home-glam’ term for a year now, but most of the time it just feels forced and like a desperate attempt to sell eveningwear. However in case of Ashish‘ autumn-winter 2021, this notion of glamour in times of global pandemy is honest and at last makes sense. Ashish Gupta has the solution to fashion’s sweatpant-mania: simply offer garments that enable the consolatory comfort that we’ve grown fond of in isolation, combined with the communal joyfulness we’re aching to emanate. This collection fabulously demonstrates that comfort and joy can be mutually inclusive and mutually enhancing. When he was a student at Central Saint Martins, Gupta said he picked up this excellent line: “An evening gown should feel as comfortable as a T-shirt, and a T-shirt should feel as special as an evening gown.” And while he can’t recall where the line came from, he explained, “I’ve always carried it with me. So I always design my clothes to not be physically restrictive in any way. Even things that look body-con are cut on the bias and are super soft. Everything has pockets and zips, and there is never any corsetry; I think you should wear clothes you can slip out of very quickly and easily.” Shot in glamorous Finchley here in London, and impressively intricate to consider on the rail in Gupta’s house, this specific collection also seemed deeply easy to quickly get into, both as wearer and watcher. Gupta said the formula of its creation was to consider patterns and visible textures that have, through their history, the power to generate positive and comforting associations – “like when I think of tie-dye, I always think of beaches and holidays” – and then go to town on them via the sequin sequencer. The joyful result is the product of intense labor: a tie-dye long sleeve, for instance, took two Ashish employees two weeks to embroider by hand, once the exact order of sequins had been drawn and sorted. This collection also ran riotous gamut across the spectrum of so-called formalwear and so-called casualwear, two other categories whose perceived opposition seems increasingly anachronistic and redundant. Happily enhanced by these fantastic Sam McKnight wigs, this was a collection in which every piece of every look was made to enable joy and comfort in most conceivable circumstances. If these ’20s really are going to roar, Ashish is bringing the noise.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Walking Amulets. Stella Jean AW21

Stella Jean is the pioneer of ethical fashion, long before it became the new standard in the fashion industry. Moreover, Jean doesn’t shy away from controversy or important causes. She has been a fierce spokesperson bringing awareness of racial inequalities in the Italian fashion system to the fore, pushing the industry to answer tough questions and to bring about effective change. In her practice as a fashion designer, her commitment to celebrating multiculturalism and the creative contribution of minorities and marginalized communities in her collections goes back a long way. Her label was actually born out of her desire to pay homage to her Haitian-Italian roots. For autumn-winter 2021, she partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Through its Women’s Committee, she teamed up with the Mountain Partnership Products initiative (MPP), which provides technical and financial support to small communities of producers and artisans in remote rural and mountain areas around the world. Jean was introduced to the work of Kyrgyz women from Barskoon, a settlement at 1,750 meters elevation in the northeast of Kyrgyzstan. The area is known for inlaid felt carpets and wall hangings traditionally handcrafted by women, using techniques passed down from generations. “When I saw all that beauty, the richness of the colors, the symbology, the history behind this culture, I was blown away,” Jean told Vogue on a Zoom call from her home in Rome. “These women are custodians of a naturally circular economy, totally equitable, and with the lowest environmental impact.” Jean connected remotely with the Topchu artisanal collective there with MPP’s support. Working with a local designer based in Bishkek, she came up with a capsule collection of five pieces featuring Kyrgyz embroidery in felt work. Jean chose simple shapes that can be easily replicated; artisans in Italy cut the patterns and sent them to Kyrgyzstan, where they were embroidered by the Topchu women. Once embroidered, the pieces were sent back to Italy to be assembled. “From next season, the collective can work on the patterns as they wish, creating new items that can be sold and bear profit,” she explained. “The patterns are not mine; I don’t own them. And the beautiful felted decorations have only been loaned to us – they’re theirs. The Kyrgyz women can source textiles locally, producing independently from outside partnerships. We’re not their saviors. We just have to accompany them, and then let them go find their own path. I think this a healthy, participatory way to look at globalization.” Jean integrated the Topchu collaboration into her collection beautifully, while also continuing to support a network of women artisans in the Umbria region, who made specially commissioned pieces, like a fabulous fringed wool poncho handcrafted with imaginative 3D ornamentations. For their part, the Kyrgyz artisans worked on simple wardrobe staples, energizing them with their vibrant decorations in saturated colors. The capsule comprises five looks: A sweeping hooded cape and a slim city coat in Prince of Wales checks were both embroidered with colorful motifs of birds and flowers in a mountainous landscape, and an oversized striped cotton shirt was decorated with long-legged herons. The pièces de résistance were two gorgeous skirts – one fitted, the other cut in a trapeze shape- both embroidered all over with the Shyrdak motifs traditionally handcrafted on felt carpets. “Their symbology is ancient,” said Jean. “It brings prosperity and good luck. Those skirts, they’re almost like walking amulets.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Somebody In California Loves You. Raquel Allegra AW21

Looking at her autumn-winter 2021 collection, it’s visible that Raquel Allegra has been spending most of lockdown in her garden – it’s the attitude, easiness and colours that say it all. You can even glimpse it in her look-book, filled with lush trees, towering leafy plants, succulents, and flowers growing every which way. Allegra has always strived to feel in communion with her surroundings, but the pandemic awakened a new urgency to bring this more fully into her work. “Human nature: We are of nature, not separate,” she wrote in a letter about the collection. Her artful clothes were a comfort to women stuck at home this year, but it’s easy to imagine wearing them out in nature too, whether you’re gardening in one of her tie-dyed jumpsuits or spending a week in the woods with a duffel of jersey separates and zero cell service. For autumn, she paid closer attention to how her clothes may unintentionally impact those surroundings – namely after they’re already in your closet. Going forward, nearly all of her garment tags will read “machine washable,” not “dry-clean only,” in an effort to avoid the toxic chemicals involved in the dry-cleaning process. Not many brands consider that. Now, her customer can choose her own detergent, ideally a nontoxic one. Allegra said the shift was just as much about streamlining our lives; dry-cleaning is simply a hassle, and it often inspires us to wear our favorite things less often than we’d like. Allegra’s clothes are ultrasoft, but they aren’t meant to be precious; she wants you to wear them every day, wash them when you need to, and repeat. The collection had a great balance of “masculine” and “feminine” details and silhouettes, with hoodies and mannish trousers on one end and sleek, sensual tank dresses on the other. A clever ruffled kerchief lent a bit of Victorian charm knotted over sweatshirts and blazers. And after the year we’ve had, who isn’t craving a little color? Allegra’s new season colour palette is super inspiring, from the shades of lilac to zesty yellow. The t-shirt with “Somebody in California loves you” is another favourite. Topanga coolness!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.