Who is the Gucci girl? Under Tom Ford, you knew who she was. She had powerful allure and either you wanted to be her or at the very least, you commended her bravado. Under Frida Giannini, she was a bit elusive. Did you ever know her in real life? Or was she just constantly trussed up in re-iterations of 60s and 70s cliches – a walking hologram on the runway. Chez Giannini, Gucci felt like an empty ghost. So when it came to witnessing the debut womenswear show by surprise creative director choice Alessandro Michele, I was hoping there’d be more than a semblance of character and personality on show.
In a moody recreation of a Milanese subway station – a girl stalked around in shaggy fur lined Gucci slippers with flyaway hair, glasses, silk blouses with ties at the neck and boyish trousers that hung low on the hips. She doesn’t mind that her leather is rumpled and that her dresses are roughly pleated. She’s a collector and goes about procuring embroidered birds like treasures from the 18th century to adorn her library sweaters, knit skirts and the back of one decadent fur coat. Copies of Nietsche might be in her Gucci floral motif hobo bags. Geometric lurex, metallic leathers and Tudor-inspired jewellery satisfies her inner magpie instinct without ever allowing glitz to dominate. She also struts about in mannish Colefax and Fowler floral suits, matched by her boyish partner in crime. These couplings sloth and slouch about – conscious of their own eclecticism.
With one show (and at the back of your mind, his hastily pulled together menswear show in January), Michele has very clearly painted a picture of this Gucci girl (and boy – or are they one and the same?). You can see there’s a tangible character and it’s one that feels more than familiar to me. It’s almost been a full decade since we were mooning over the jolie laide, geeky femme, heavy-on-the-vintage style of models like Iekeliene Stange, Valentine Fillol Cordier and Irina Lazareanu. Way back when, before street style photographers were two-a-penny, the posse of diligent Japanese street style magazines were snapping away at them. They’d garner cult followings there and beyond. Their dedicated threads on The Fashion Spot would burgeon with every picky instance of them and you can see their maverick stylings come through in this collection. In a similar vein, Michele’s Gucci also recalled for me, that very brilliant Class of 2006 shoot in British Vogue, where Paolo Rovers shot Russell Marsh’s spotted new models including the likes of Hanne Gaby Odiele. If those references mean nothing to you then you could even say Michele’s new collection for Gucci is the perfect style accompaniment to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl character trope that was incidentally coined during that period.
In short, Michele – consciously or not- has incited nostalgia for a time period that is now actually long enough ago, to romanticise. At least that’s what it felt like to me. Vanessa Friedmann said in her review that the clothes weren’t anything new and she’s right. But in fashion’s cyclical prism, and as heavyweight designers like Raf Simons and Nicolas Ghesquiere find success in eking out futures from the past, this feels like it’s in a similar vein. Except Michele is looking to something closer to home – touchable, recognisable and because of that, even more endearing.
For Gucci, Michele’s romantic eclectic chick is new and feels appropriate too. She tunes into a Western world that isn’t so sure of itself anymore. The desire to dream and to escape whilst wearing her heart on her romantic sleeve, as opposed to confronting it head on with full-on sexiness, plays into Michele’s Gucci girl. Hence the vaguely gawkish air. That’s not going to embraced universally. Even as we were exiting the show, you could see the question marks above some people’s heads – “Where are the bags? Why is that girl not sexy?” Love or hate. There’s a feeling that you haven’t felt in a while at Gucci. And despite that, at the very least you know who what the deal is with this Gucci girl. You can feel her and, maybe just – just maybe, want to be her. Time will tell.