Every aspect of the run-up to Thursday’s Gucci’s cruise show in New York was worth overanalysing, in lieu of this being the first proper collection where new creative director Alessandro Michele has had ample time to fully form his ideas. There was the typewriter font on the invite (apparently Michele wanted a specific type of typewriter to do the job). Then the bumblebee motif (a symbol you’ll find carved into marble all over Rome, where Gucci are based and Michele was born). A look at Gucci’s Instagram and you saw @cococapitan posting artistic images of New York’s architecture. Gucci’s radical makeover was already in full swing with the release of the softly sensual Glen Luchford pre-fall campaign images, but the resort show was Michele’s chance to show us his complete vision of Gucci.
In contrast with competing houses like Louis Vuitton and Chanel, who used far-flung locations and epic architecture to show their resort collections, Gucci opted for a familiar gallery space in New York’s Chelsea (where many NYFW shows are held), furnished with Persian rugs and toile de jouy covered chairs. That instantly makes your focus switched on to the clothes at hand as opposed to the environment and setting – an accusation levied against the houses that have dominated the cruise tour around the world. Within my immediate vicinity, the guest-list was also edited to a tee to reflect Michele’s personal tastes – a seat had been reserved for cult New York icon Maripol and I was sitting next to the rising Instagram breakout painter Unskilled Worker, whose paintings Michele is a fan of. As a montage of orchestral soundtracks started up, the garage doors to the gallery were raised up and the models proceeded to walk in from the street, where outside Luchford was shooting a film (see above).
And the street is certainly where Michele sees his eclectic cast existing. It always sounds a bit cliched when designers talk about their clothes existing “in real life” or “on the streets”. Michele has a different take on what is “real life”. His models are presented as dreamers in a city, listening to soundtracks in their heads and clearly oblivious to what’s considered “normal” attire as their layered, vintage-hued and hyper eclectic ensembles take hold. That’s an attitude I, along with other “different” dressers can relate to.
The collection was in essence a continuation of what we saw at the AW15 womenswear show in Milan, but fleshed out and ramped up with even more lovingly handcrafted details. That bespectacled, beret-wearing character was well established in that A/W 15 show. Michele had painted a picture that we immediately understood. Now was the time to really give that character a wardrobe of riches. It was a trousseau of brocade jackets, brooch covered furs, embroidered sweaters and quilted housecoats that could have been plucked from the 40s to the 70s. References remixed. The textural and colour palette amplified Decades evoked but never re-iterated literally. For instance, the animal motifs of tigers and serpents that looked like they might have been lifted from Japanese souvenir jackets or tattoos. And whilst Michele ushers in an entirely fresh attitude for Gucci, the symbols of the house came at you unexpectedly with double Gs on glittering tasseled loafers, or the red and green equestrian stripe edging a white lace dress.
You’re still left imagining where these Gucci characters might be doing. That’s what happens when a designer crafts out a good narrative. These girls/boys might read Sartre, neck some beers and go gallery hopping together in Dalston, Williamsburg or their global equivalents. And the clothes they were wearing are aspirational in a way that is emotive, because you feel that living and breathing characters have inhabited them.
After the show, we were all invited up to an informal breakfast across the road with a chance to meander around, go up to the rails and inspect the clothes. Just another warmth-inducing gesture from this new Gucci driven by emotion. Come in, touch the clothes and be touched by the sentiment. Time is a precious commodity in the fashion schedule, and so being able to take everything in up-close felt like a treat.
Michele was on hand to speak to just about every journalist in the world. No hierarchical interviewer’s list. He was generous with his words to everyone. That’s why the word “eclectic” cropped up constantly when Michele was talking about the collection. He also said that “love” fuelled the collection, which incidentally appeared on a see-through lace dress in French –aveugle par l’amour – blinded by love. So far, so very hippie and optimistic, which is what Michele’s vibe is all about. “I’m inspired by a lot of things – from the street, antiques, vintage wardrobes. It’s impossible to explain the exact point of inspiration. It’s about being free to love, free to express, free to show who you are through the way you dress,” said Michele. “Luxury means that you show the way you dress with eccentricity. It’s almost like a new kind of jetset – instead of roaming around the world, you’re roaming with your clothes.”
Michele’s redefinition of luxury is precisely what makes his appointment at Gucci so fascinating. How significant that Kering is allowing Michele the freedom to so dramatically change up the hyper-glam, ultra-bling status quo of their billion dollar house Gucci Along with his designs, the marketing and creative strategy – evident in the run-up to the show, the way the show was presented and the afterparty, which featured Karen Elson in an intimate gig at the back of B Bar and Grill – are definitely not about appeasing the lowest common denominator. That a behemoth like Gucci is driving this is quite extraordinary.
Our ideals of luxury have had to evolve for a Gen Y and Z, who are arguably worse-off than the baby boomers. And whilst the bottom line is of course still all-important at Gucci, by letting Michele to shake up the house, they’re sending out the message that luxury today can be about a creative freedom of expression. Perhaps democracy is too strong a word, but having the liberty to be a bit weird, a bit gawkish and a bit awkward goes someway to becoming more inclusive. That definitely is a shift from the previous desire to dictate behind a gilded screen and feels like a bold move for the house in the context of what had gone before. It’s not yet a revolution, but in Michele’s words, a “renaissance” – one where eclecticism frees the shackles of how people expect you to dress: “The world is changing and we have to be brave.”
A shortened version of this post was first published on Dazed Digital