When Alessandro Michele emerged tonight following his Gucci autumn winter ’19 presentation in Milan (on a 100-metre-long refracted-light kaleidoscope runway, no less) he appeared part religious figure (the long hair, the jewellery, the spiritual atmosphere he carries), part rock god (the long hair, the Dave Grohl casuals, the applause) but also, ever so slightly sheepish. Prior to this evening, it’s been a week of controversy and damage-control for the Italian house, and a reality-check for the man who rejects it in spades.
I’ve always found the marrying of ‘creative director’ and ‘international business powerhouse’ to be somewhat of a contradiction in terms. That risky practice of cultivating talent of a prophetic artistic nature (the best to be found, in fact) and then launching it stratospherically into a position of major commercial responsibility. None could be more fitting an example than that of Michele and his ascension to the creative helm of Gucci. Michele is a dreamer. A lover of magicking reality far from his art. An imaginative who can watch a film and leave with nothing but the inspiration for a new shade of magenta (based on a wallpaper in one scene). A man who sent a baby dragon and formulated human heads as accessories down the runway last spring…and it just seemed to work. Michele was never the expected appointment either – he was not famous nor on the speculation list – but when he was, he was given total artistic freedom. To say the position has since made the world his oyster would be fitting, yet crassly prosaic for such a visual poet.
In the transformed airplane-hanger-sized space of Gucci’s Milan headquarters, there was not a seat spare tonight. If Michele is part rock god, then this is his stadium. The distraction of blinding LEDs and floor-to-ceiling mirror was brilliant castration for the audience’s hum of news headlines (Gucci, and Michele, have been criticised for a balaclava sweater from last year’s collection. The item called out for being grotesquely representative of black face).
There is so much theatre to unpack from an Alessandro Michele Gucci show that it’s possible to forget there’s fashion to be had. The formally taught tailor had originally wanted to be a classical costume designer, and it shows. His creations are never far from stage-worthy. Tonight, 16th Century Commedia dell’arte thrashed alongside ghastly Jason Voorhee masks and domination spiked chokers. While 24-carat gold Spock-elfin ear-covers, inspired by artist Eduardo Costa, were genuine option for new season accoutrement. Commedia’s harlequin clowns traditionally depicted, and be-fooled staples of society, it was satirical and salacious theatre. Michele’s post-modern couture-clowns today, were possibly aiming at the same.
But what of the garments? Michele told Tim Blanks in a 2018 interview for Business of Fashion that Marco Bizzarri (the brand’s chief executive) had wiped the slate clean for his reinvention of Gucci, and told him in no uncertain terms that money was not to be his limitation. What a limb for the heritage Italian house. And what a pressure for its new visionary. But Michele is a romantic, and instead drew endless inspiration from this borderless brief. Luckily for him, and for Bizzarri, so far in terms of fashion, zeitgeist and the bottom line, it has worked meteorically.
His own style is maniacally eclectic, which he pours into his shows. Tonight, there were no rules to his fabric and colour stories, every piece of the collection dramatically unique rendering it akin to a vintage costume parlour. This season he notably incorporated some established trends, however; oversized shouldering, argyle sweaters with slouchy pleated pants and wide-leg leather trousers for ready-to-wear sensibility. But then there was the inspired blue tartan suiting, the organ pleating, the acrobat dresses all laced with variations of gold crosses, yellow-lensed sunglasses, plastic visor-beanie and hats in forms of beret and cloche revoking the collection back to the Gucci wild. Overall, it was a grandma’s closet of this-and-that. A fancy-dress, treasure-chest explosion.
Anyone that visits Michele’s abode in Rome (of which he shares with long-term partner Giovanni Attili) comments on its expected unexpected nature. A homage to the collectible, to esoteric vintage, to fantasy both light and dark. Michele loathes anything attributed to normalcy and the direction he has taken Gucci makes this achingly apparent. His designs are a non-reality we’re invited to view a few times a year, when we’re gallantly marched into his other-world, spells cast upon us in the form of heavenly mismatching, demonic structures and mystical layering. Today was no different.
However, Gucci’s buck does not stop with the imagination of Michele (albeit he is the breadwinner), it’s a multi-billion-dollar corporation with stores worldwide (often with queues out the door), vastly diverse customers and, in turn, a responsibility spotlight. For Michele, it must feel an untouchable world away, designing supernormal fantastical creatures from a space of arcane art. For him, the heralded visionary, the saviour of modern Gucci, being brought back to earth these last few days would have been a strange, unwelcome sojourn. But we all need a dose of reality, every now and then, even if just for a moment.