Kim Jones‘ second haute couture collection for Fendi was captured in an emotive film, which saw the likes of Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, Malgosia Bela and Amber Valletta gaze enigmatically into the camera as they wafted around a Roman theater set in dresses evocative of the stone and statues of the Eternal City. It was shot by Luca Guadagnino and scored by Max Richter. In the age of social media when big, beautiful dresses go viral, the direction Jones is setting for Fendi epitomizes a popular understanding of haute couture as something the eye can easily identify: bold ballroom silhouettes, sumptuous surface decoration and (very) famous faces. “It’s being optimistic about being able to socialize properly. I thought it was a nice moment to say that,” he said. Couture clients, Jones pointed out, “go to Fendi for something extravagant.” Two seasons into his tenure, his couture expression is manifesting itself in decoration and fabrication above all. His glamorous evening dresses serve as canvases for this finery, like the mother-of-pearl embellishment and recycled fur mosaic work that graced this collection. Watching it unfold, it feels like a formative process, as if all that intarsia and all those embroideries have been locked inside him for so long, waiting for the day when they could burst out into bona fide couture. Comparing to his heavy, over-worked January show, this one radiates with lightness and elegance that isn’t forced. To me, it felt like the mesmerising ambience of Rome. The film was inspired by Pasolini’s neorealistic Roman cinema, every architectural era of the city visible on its mock horizon. The fabrics and textures were informed by the buildings and pavements of Rome, some employed in statuesque lines that underscored the theme. Jones’s evolving exercise in the decorative aspects of haute couture made for eye-catching effects like the allover petal work of Moss’s oversized dress, or the marbling of Valletta’s swathing gown. Most compelling were the silhouettes that really took form, like the hypnotizing construction of a mosaic bolero jacket that resculpted the body through the volume-specific grammar of haute couture, or the dress worn by Mica Argañaraz, which demonstrated a similar idea in flou. “We had a lot more time to work on this one. We’ve actually had a full season. So, it’s a lot more worked into, and I think people will see a lot of difference in it. The people here, when they see what we’ve been doing, they can’t believe it’s the second one I’ve done. They say it’s a lifetime’s worth of understanding,” Jones concluded.
And again, Valentino‘s Pierpaolo Piccioli is the king of haute couture, even after months of confinement that could basically cancel the entire season. Entitled “The Performance: of Grace and Light, a dialogue between Pierpaolo Piccioli and Nick Knight,” the presentation played as a hybrid digital / physical event staged in a darkened void on the famed Cinecitta movie lot in Rome for local press and friends of the house. In a Zoom press conference, Piccioli explained he’d conceptualized the 16-look collection as “an extreme response” to the tough circumstances of lockdown; a determination to overcome the technical problems of socially-distanced working in the Valentino atelier and the impossibility of creating prints and lavish embroideries. “I didn’t want to feel the limitations. Couture is made for emotions, dreams,” he said. “It was super-emotional for us all to be here together to win this challenge. A moment I will never forget.” First came a pre-recorded screening of an artily glitchy video by Knight, in which projections of flowers and feathers played over meters-long dresses worn by women who appeared to hover in an aerial circus scenario. Cut to real time: curtains drew back to reveal the models, standing perched on ladders in a static tableau, their dresses – some of Pierpaolo’s biggest couture hits, elongated to the extremes, and revealed to be all-white – cascading to the floor, videoed live. INCREDIBLE. The idea of taking the show to Cinecitta, Rome’s “factory of dreams,” led the designer to add the concept of “the magic of early cinema,” evoking the silent movie imagery of with silver sequins and waterfalls of glittering fringe. To make it even more ethereal, Piccioli commissioned recordings from FKA twigs – her extraordinary voice soared poignantly as the models swung from trapezes and floated through Knight’s digital performance. Fashion communication on multi-platform formats has taken surreal twists and turns as designers have tried to conquer the dreadful problems of the pandemic. In Piccioli’s case, the surrealism was right there, embodied in the theatrical form of some of the most gorgeous dresses the world has ever seen.
Last February, days before the coronavirus crisis broke out near Milan, Alessandro Michele staged a Guccishow 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.”
Alessandro Michele‘s pre-fall 2020 collection for Gucci is the post scriptum of his vision he staged back in September. “It tells the same story about proportion, silhouette, and, above all, the balance between shape and color,” he summed up. Balancing contrasting bearers of meaning in the same outfit has always been a Michele’s skill. He simplified his looks – cleaning it up (aesthetically) definitely works for Alessandro lately. Shapes had clarity, with hints to the elegance of the 1960s (trapeze dresses in solid colors or in black with cutout décolletage; short capes calling to mind Pierre Cardin’s futuristism; bold floral ensembles with boxy-cut little jackets) and to the free-spirited bohemia of the 1970s (gorgeous kaftans in every possible length; flowing feminine chemisier dresses; floor-grazing linen tunics with contrasting macramé appliqués or geometric motifs). Decoration and embellishments, although reduced, were still idiosyncratic and full of appeal. Michele’s knack for cultivated quirk crept up also in his punctuation of lingerie as a subtly sexual message – a theme he introduced in the September show. Logoed brassieres and underwire bras peeked from underneath blouses or crisscrossed open tops, worn under leather blazers.
The lookbook was shot in Rome through the lens of Bruce Gilden. The cast of characters was as diverse as can be, including model and advocate Bethann Hardison and fashion legend Benedetta Barzini, both fabulous in their age-defying charisma and presence. “At the core [of the collection] remains the relationship between clothing and its wearer, and everything that revolves around these ‘clothed bodies,’” explained Michele. “The set and the photography not only emphasize the look but also the characters, providing a viewpoint to delve into the relationship between empty and full spaces, between clothed bodies and the space around them—and therefore between where we are and what is happening.”
Another day, another resort show taking place somewhere in the world. Gucci‘s resort 2020 unfolded in the shadowy halls of the Musei Capitolini in Rome, where the legendary Capitoline wold statue stands guard telling the story of Romulus and Remus and the mythic tale of the Founding of Rome in the 8th century B.C. Where busts of Hadrian, whose love affair with Antinous peaks fantasies up to now, and Neron, who was one of the first dictators and mysogynists in the world, might look at each other in the corridor. Alessandro Michele‘s new collection was lots, lots of history, heavily inspired with loose sheats and tunics of Romans. And there was this notion of theatrical dressing up, something Romans loved a lot. Michele revisited this idea (as if he didn’t every season…) with more modern, pop references: Elton John (who sat front row), Bob Mackie’s iconic black peacock Cher look, 70s Gucci jet-set style, Mickey Mouse prints… well, lots of content. So much that you barely see the clothes, which is something we already got used to with Gucci shows. Alessandro also attempted to grasp something from the contemporary world – which is highly recommeded for brands with such huge platform of viewers. A uterus was embroidered on a pleated gown, sparking very mixed feelings on social media, and as the brand explained, “the piece reflects the creative director’s continuing vision of freedom, equality and self-expression. Since founding Chime for Change in 2013 – the global campaign that represents and advocates for gender equality – Gucci has a longstanding commitment to women and girls by funding projects around the world to support sexual and reproductive rights, maternal health and the freedom of individual choice.” Which is, shortly speaking, a comment on current abortion issues going on in USA (and not only). A blue jacket with “MY BODY MY CHOICE” slogan on the back was even more straight-forward. Still, I’m not a fan of this collection. There’s just too much going on. And with every ‘fantasy’ of Alessandro, it gets blurrier and blurrier…