This week, the tills inside the Gucci store on Montenapoleone in Milan were going ker-ching, ker-ching, ker-ching. It was heaving with people buying into Alessandro Michele’s new look Gucci. Figures may not be concrete just yet but on first sight, what looked to be a risky creative director move seems to be paying off. There’s a buzz about Gucci and those feelings of warmth, emotion and tangibility, which I sensed from his first womenswear debut last season and the cruise show in May, are emanating far wider than one would first imagine when they were confronted by Michele’s vaguely awkward, pile-it-on curiosity maven muse. I wrote a piece dissecting the S/S 16 collection for AnOtherMag.com, which I have tweaked slightly for the blog:
In 1654, French novelist and master conversationalist Madeleine de Scudéry created the Carte de Tendre, as part of her novel Clélie. It was a map, based not on actual geography, but on pyscho-emotions, guiding one’s way through passages of patience and faithfulness before you can arrive at the final destination of love. Scudéry was certainly ahead of her time, in terms of seeing the world not as a geopolitical one but one where feeling takes over and so this ground-breaking map became the perfect starting point and metaphor for Alessandro Michele’s latest collection for Gucci. The mapped out Gucci-land and each area of its aesthetic sphere – be it double G logo handbags, horsebit loafers or seventies-tinged glamour – have been flooded with sentiment. An aura of warmth has permeated this Italian stalwart house, as a willing audience including myself, is eager to don rose-tinted spectacles and see Gucci bathed with a new light.
It’s a mood that has seeped in not just because of mere physical garments but up close, it’s hard not to marvel at the sheer range of world-derived ideas and time-travelling motifs that flourish in what is Michele’s broadest collection yet for Gucci. The immediate appearance of the clothes reads vintage but the actual make-up of each garment shows a mind that takes voyages to whatever period or place it wants to go.
The Eye Has to Travel
Back in June at Gucci’s cruise show held in New York, Michele said “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.” For S/S 16, Michele was once again roaming with clothes but ones that simultaneously manage to globe-trot and span centuries in time. The result is a collection bursting with pick-and-choose pieces that speak to individual desires. On the runway, the girl was perhaps a more demarcated character – defined by her geeky eyewear, girlish insouciance and otherworldly bookishness. On the rails, it’s a feast of whatever takes your fancy.
Bucol silks mimicking 18th century French wallpaper were made up into suits. Intricate Chinese embroidery adorned a 1970s Soul Train-esque satin tracksuit set. Mid 20th century geometric prints are interrupted by Japanese blooms. Jewellery replicates the royal hands of Tudor portraits as well as shortened nail guards of empresses of the Qing dynasty (yes, I have read the Bijules copycat story although my initial interpretation was that they were inspired by something much older).
There’s an ambiguity to many of the pieces as Michele draws from so many eras and continents within one collection. Is an embroidered flower and bird derived from India, Mexico or China? Meercats roaming on a leather skirt could be from a Grecian pot or an African cave painting. In the end, you can’t quite map out the exact locale or period. Moreover, Michele is an adept observer of periods and subcultures reflected and refracted at another time. Like a studded biker jacket peppered with Gucci flora or similarly spiked up shoes, are likely to be inspired by a contemporary Japanese rockabilly’s interpretation of English punk, given Michele’s inclination to travel not with accuracy but with curious filters.
This is a reflection of our world today – recalling and referencing the past in the hope of eking out something new. In Michele’s case, the newness can be found in the warmth of feeling that his clothes and spirit have brought to the house. And moreover this isn’t surface for surface’s sake. As the bulging contemporary sector of the fashion landscape continues to churn out minimalist-lite product, based on vague notions of what is “modern” and “easy” today, Michele’s collections for Gucci represent one of the few lone voices that fights for clothes that are storied and intensely ornate. It’s a beautiful protest for the magpies amongst us.
Glamped up, Sexed Up
You can’t ignore Gucci’s iconic sexed up past under Tom Ford and its more straightforward iteration of sexiness under Frida Giannini but under Michele, his articulation on sensuality is more layered – and for the most part, more covered up. 1970s glam rock and psychedelia lingered all over the collection to bring his take on sexiness to the fore. The soles of the Terry de Havilland-style platform shoes were kissed by a suggestive teeth-baring lip graphic, that might have graced 1960s counterculture art. There’s a Carry On quality to some of the clothes as black sequin outlines created trompe l’oeil takes on peignoirs and lingerie and sheer tulle dresses in candy colours revealed the body without looking overt. Stars embroidered over a sweater like nipple pasties are yet another nudge nudge wink wink gesture from Michele. These glamped up lurexes, metallic leathers and glittering surfaces hinted at what lies beneath without being provocatively explicit.
How the Garden of Gucci Grows
It was tipping it down with torrential rain when we arrived at the abandoned train station – a dramatic change up from Gucci’s usual boxed-in venue – but that didn’t stop us from noticing the lush and verdant greenery, sprouting up wildly on both sides of the runway. That’s another handy metaphor for Michele’s Gucci. This garden of his, once flourishing, has now been replanted with new seeds, but the soil is still the same. The collection’s incorporation of Gucci insignia continues to grow in strength. The traditional flowers of Gucci’s Flora scarf print created in the 1960s blossoms all over the collection. The navy and red grosgrain stripe from Gucci’s luggage streaks its way across this season’s bags and onto the opening green lace dress. The double GG handbags this time were sprouted over with beaded pop art iconography. A masterful GG leather and suede trench printed with painterly Fragonard flowers is perhaps the most representative of what Michele is doing with Gucci’s well-established iconography.
And in the process, Michele is also growing a language of his own as serpents, introduced in the cruise collection, snake their way around onto the backs of jackets and of course on to the carpet of the runway. Michele’s own personal style traits make their way into the show with the consistently pressed down backs of the shoes and the loading up of rings on the hands.
There’s also a distinct nod to the post-war elegante era of Italian moda – a smart total look comprising of a coat, gloves, shoes bag, a hat and plenty of jewellery. Michele wholeheartedly embraces Gucci’s illustrious past as well as its status as a fashion powerhouse of Italy – two things, which could overawe designer. Somehow though, we find ourselves in a very intimate garden, with that serpent drawing us in deeper, as we’re tempted by the sweetness of Gucci’s fruits.