Last February, days before the coronavirus crisis broke out near Milan, Alessandro Michele staged a Gucci show in the round that was spectacular and intimate at once. In retrospect, it looks rather prescient: in inviting the audience behind the scenes and exposing the backstage goings-on of the hair and makeup crews and model dressers Michele was celebrating the very things that we’re all missing so badly in COVID-19-time: human interaction, collaboration, being part of a receptive audience. “Fashion is not just what we decide to show,” Michele said on a WhatsApp video call earlier this week. “The idea that a campaign is just a piece of paper? No, there is another show in the show.” The concept for the 12-hour livestream the brand produced for resort 2021, which the designer named “Epilogue,” and staged at the glorious Renaissance-era Palazzo Sacchetti in Rome with a natural soundtrack of cicadas, is to document the advertising campaign, to capture that “show within the show.” Only this time, Michele explained, “it’s less theater. This one will be more dirty. It’s a few cameras in a very Andy Warhol way, maybe they’re looking at nothing interesting. The experiment doesn’t work if I plan too much.” The Gucci designers working in his studio modelled the resort looks they worked on. On the WhatsApp call, he remembered a time as a young designer when a piece he was making was pulled for a show or a shoot and he didn’t see it again. “It was like someone tried to take from you your son.” Spotlighting his colleagues was “something beautiful,” he said, “they were so happy.” As for the clothes themselves, Michele called them “a celebration of my point of view, things that I did in the past, pieces that belong to my aesthetic.” That aesthetic is as singular and idiosyncratic as ever. Min Yu Park, a men’s ready-to-wear designer wears a beaded floral jacket, a floral lace dress, and a turquoise necklace that matches her Jackie bag. Alexandra Muller, an embroidery designer, models a long filmy floral-print ruffled dress with clear sequins that pick up the light. David Ring, a celebrities designer, sports an embroidered velvet blazer, a striped tee, logo flares, and sneakers. Just taking a glace at the clothes tells you right away: Gucci. Back in May Michele announced Gucci’s reduced show schedule. This may be the brand’s last resort collection, but the name “Epilogue” might be a misnomer. The learnings of lockdown – the importance of his team, the value of feeling – will stick with him, he thinks. “It’s not just a way to close, but to say what we’ve done and put seeds of what will be in the next chapter. Yes, it could also be a beginning.”
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
For a good start of Milan fashion week, at the very beginning of the Gucci show, the curtain was pulled back on the frenzied sort of preparations that typically happen backstage of any runway presentation. On a rotating carousel, bathrobe-clad models were quickly trussed and styled by fleets of dressers in gray Gucci smocks before taking their place along the stage’s edge. The vintage-feeling clothes, which included big hats and opera gloves, were no less theatrical – there were frilly baby-doll dresses, bell-bottom suits in pastels and baroquely ruffled ball gowns, inspired, said Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, by the idea of a mother dressing her child for a special occasion. What truly appealed to me in this show is Michele’s embrace of the dress-up ritual. It can be spontaneous, planned, conscious or unconscious, one day you can look like Janis Joplin, another be a goth lolita, and then on Friday be the S&M-version of Marie Antoinette. The opening look perfecly showed the theme of the collection: a confused-looking model in one of those gowns, with a chunky knitted sweater over her head.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
A huge pendulum ticktocked back and forth, drawing a line in the sand beneath it. The mood felt far more sober that usual. Time for reflection? “Fashion is a sort of clock,” Alessando Michele rightly observed after his Gucci autumn-winter 2020 collection for men. Michele’s very first show – of a collection assembled in only five days after Frida Gianini’s abrupt departure – was held at the Milan menswear week in January 2015. And who would have thought it’s impact will be this big – not only for Gucci, but fashion in general? Michele referred back to that first collection – the open-back kangaroo-lined loafers that were his first big accessories hit were among the footwear in the new collection. But this was not self-reference for the sake of it. “I haven’t got any nostalgia,” he said. “I don’t cling to the past…. I use the past because the past is a very interesting space.” Grannyish knits and David Bowie-ish metallic flares, Kurt Cobain-ish grungy ’90s denim and a Courtney Love-ish leopard-print coat. Those were the first references that came to mind. And the tongue-in-cheek title of the show – ‘Rave Like You Are Five’? Most of the clothes were styled the way children wear their clothes when parents aren’t around: the way they like, not the way they areobliged to. Michele was also exploring the big idea of the season: an emphasis on the potential boundarylessness of masculinity rather than its long-constructed boundaries. “This is not a narrative that excludes or rules out mainstream masculinity; on the contrary, I want to talk about how complex it is to be a man. And this means growing up maybe in a different way because the world of men is very diverse and full of different elements like the feminine world.” But what I enjoyed the most in this collection was the lack of the Gucci-fied over-the-topness (which the designer signalised for the first time in his spring-summer 2020 line-up). Without all the drowning opulence that Michele made us used to in the last couple of years, you really feel and see his pure aesthetic.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.