By SARAH MOWER – It was an intense, contradictory, and literally dark experience, this Gucci show. It was full of glitter and glam, ’80s shoulders, English tweeds, Disney and Sega references, and all the recognizable multi-everything orchestration of retooled vintage with which Alessandro Michele has revived this brand as a powerhouse with global reach. Yet one of the most commerically successful designers in the world—perhaps the most—deliberately wanted to make it near-impossible to see his clothes. Strafing the audience with strobing spotlights in a cavernous, misty, half-lit hall full of replica antiquities, Michele essentially set out a manifesto for resisting the pressure to speed ahead, and to change what he does.
Beforehand, he had warned the press what was going through his mind. “When you see the show, you will see what I’m trying to do: I want to stay in my aesthetic,” he said. “When I’m working on the collection, I’m already thinking about the space, and the music and the light. I think it’s no longer time to just talk about the clothes. In the beginning, it was something that allowed me to reflect my idea of beauty. Now it’s more than beauty. It’s a state of mind. It’s an idea of community and a really deep expression.” The words in his press release spelled it out with even more emotional force: “Resist the mantra of speed that violently leads to loosing [sic] oneself. Resist the illusion of something new at any cost.”
The buildup to Michele’s immersive experience started with the invitation. Each guest was delivered a tin box, covered with what looked like occult symbols in gothic handwriting, which contained among other things a miniature set of black candles, and a pack of matches printed with the word hypnotism. At the show itself, Michele plunged his audience into a hangar-sized space set with Greek and Roman statues, effigies of Egyptian gods, and a fragment of an Aztec temple (they were props shipped up to Milan from the Cinecittà film studios, it transpired). Some people took their seats and found they were sitting next to a bandage-swathed mummy on the bench next door.
Perhaps one of the keys to Michele’s complex personality is that he lives and works in Rome, where layers upon layers of history, and the evidence of people who have lived before, are ever-present. Yet he’s also one of the fashion masters of the digital universe, communicating his visions brilliantly through Instagram campaigns, a friend of celebrities and gatherer of quirky creative people to the brand family. It’s perhaps no wonder that this omni-connected man channels the sensibility that everything, past and present, is going on at the same time. That’s what his collections look like. “To feel the contemporary,” he said, “I need to know that something was there before. I want to touch it.”
Michele’s friendship with Elton John was one of the touch points in this collection. David Furnish, who was front row, confirmed that Michele had been invited over to go through Elton’s archive of starry early ’70s glam rock stage clothes. “He has all the things Bob Mackie and Annie Reavey made,” said Furnish. “Elton loves Alessandro, and really appreciates what he’s doing.” A leather suit appliquéd with musical notes, a jacket with pom-poms, and the purple sequinned one embellished with lime green snakes were straight-up Elton homages. Not to mention the more outré pink satin clown suit with swooping pagoda shoulders.
Meanwhile, the sweater emblazoned with the words Never Marry a Mitford was another souvenir of a recent relationship Michele has struck up—this one with the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire at Chatsworth House, where Gucci this year sponsored the incredible “House Style” exhibition.
Michele has been intensely busy this year, to put it mildly. The exponential growth of Gucci is a phenomenon of our times in fashion; a game changer which is the envy of all luxury competitors. If there’s melancholy, dissonance, and noise in the way Michele put this collection over, well, maybe that’s an accurate reflection of the way the contemporary world feels, too. On the other hand, something else he said in passing reveals exactly the detail-mindedness that has proved such a raging success in every store and duty-free Gucci shop on planet Earth: “I’m trying to push the fact that fashion is full of little things.”