ALL HAIL THE KING
FOR ALESSANDRO MICHELE, TH E CREATIVE FORCE B EHIND GUCCI’S RESURGENCE, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BEAUTY - AND GIVING THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT.
You are not here.” It’s an inauspicious start to our Milanese date with Gucci’s new maestro, Alessandro Michele. “Sir, I can state again that you are not here.” And so he does – the burly, black-clad bouncer who’s angular physicality suggests Eastern European over Italian, firmly reiterating the error made, that this is not our point of entry. Not today. It seems the heavy tint and lithe, low-slung lines of the Audi that’s ferried us to Gucci’s so-called Hub, on the industrial outskirts of the city, is to blame – passing an initial checkpoint, the first means of division that we were waved through, arriving at the velvet rope apparently not meant for us. Further along we shuffle, to attach to other members of the general public and a moving queue that arrives at a lengthy courtyard informing but a minor piece of Gucci’s recently opened HQ – a dramatic 35,000m2 plot of functional, squared buildings of glass and brick and open space on a site that once housed Caproni Aeronautics. Our stuttering debut is made all the more amusing on eagerly waving back to a familiar Australian face across the growing crowd, a child-like display of excited expressiveness and flapping... only to realise his gesturing is actually for the attractive blonde stood directly behind. We smile back. No cigarettes allowed. Not here, beyond the rope, within the sanctum. Filthy habit, anyway. And so, instead, we take in Alexa Chung – looking surprised, as she does, not a striped Michael Kors top in sight. The overachieving Brit ‘It’ stares down the multiple phone cameras of kids who’ll have likely spoken about themselves, without hesitation or remorse, in the third person at some point during the previous 24 hours. Today, they’ll immediately post their captures to the millions of followers (#farshon) they apparently have. Hari Nef joins ‘It’ as A$AP Rocky uses the glare coming from his wonderful smile, stacked as it is with truly luminous teeth, to part the crowd – and contend with hasty captures from the kids with the phones, each craving the further promotion of a supposedly attractive existence. Elsewhere, actress Selma Hayek’s cleavage wrestles against the confines of a tight, lowly cut pink dress as Bobby Gillespie, great man and recent feature of Gucci and GQ’S video series ‘The Performers’, squints into the soft February sun. Against a red brick wall, Tom Hiddleston, stands tall and alone – a smirk smudged across his private schoolboy face; a smirk that suggests he’s aware that he’s tall and alone. A smirk that also had him chosen by Michele to be the face of Gucci’s cruise 2017 tailoring campaign. The Night Manager lead who blew every chance of ever being Bond by temporarily falling victim to Taylor Swift (#tshirt), wears well the three-piece striped navy suit he’s opted for (or, had laid out for him on the firm bed of a large, darkened suite within a centrally-located designer hotel). The Englishman’s a stark, sophisticated contrast to whatever it is Jared Leto’s come as – bearded and buried under a tigeremblazoned hoodie that stretches from beneath a gothic print denim jacket, coupled with gym shorts over knitted tights, anklehigh kicks and headband. It could be that he’s taken cues from a Bostonian roofer working through the cold creases that fold into the latter part of spring. Could be. Leto’s a firm friend of Michele – their bromance blossoming since late 2015 after the actor and musician (#quirk) was personally asked by the then newly installed creative director to use his ageless face to flog fragrance for the house. They quickly hit red carpets à deux and then Leto took the Roman designer to the Academy Awards in 2016, both sporting Gucci loafers and an excitement reminiscent of two 17-year-olds heading for a high school formal.
Leto’s bold and unique – that much can’t be challenged. He’s engaged and intelligent (if that Thirty Seconds To Mars doco is used as a test) and while a curious fit for Gucci, he further cements where Michele wants to play. “Yves, Karl, Gianni, Giorgio, Christian, Coco. It’s rare that a new name can be added to such an illustrious list,” Leto wrote for Time of his friend, who secured a spot on the magazine’s 2017 global list of ‘The 100 Most Influential People’. “But Lallo, as he is known to his closest friends, has more than earned his place. I have witnessed firsthand the amount of thought, care and passion he puts into everything he creates. It’s inspiring to behold. People don’t just like Gucci. They desire it...” The actor’s not quite so verbose today – on opting for a quick step from tinted car to frow, a simple “I’m excited to see the show” his response to being hastily asked about the afternoon Italian adventure. Leto’s right, of course, about the desire, about what Michele’s been able to achieve since being thrown the keys to the castle in January 2015. Because people are again hungry for their Gucci fix. In fact, for many among the new legion of fans, or even the returned devotees – it’s more than a desire, it’s again a need. On landing in Milan a day earlier, Gucci shopping bags dominated those being paraded on and around Via Monte Napoleone by grungy, angular fashion kids. It was a simple, observational understanding of the incredible injection of allure Michele’s bought to the storied house since replacing Frida Giannini. It was about the element of cool that’s been again captured by the facing ‘double G’. Still, expectation is a devious mistress – as enchanting and desirable as she can be deceptive and destructive. And as much as desire and devotion walks among those gathered at Gucci Hub ahead of today’s AW proceedings, questions are entwined within the anticipation – a thought about whether the man who had, since 2002, worked in the background could again create a collection that not only inspires, but which drives a narrative for others to tailgate on the seasonal roads ahead? We head inside the cavernous, blackened space to a front row that delivers as only the front row does. Shuffle shuffle. ‘Sorry I think that’s me? No, oh, OK.’ Shuffle shuffle. ‘Great to see you.’ Mwah. ‘I can’t believe she’s wearing slides.’ It also provides a strong position to witness other celebrity arrivals – the ethereal Florence Welsh floating as she does in floor-length print, Anna Wintour wearing a two-piece that’s not black, the man who picked up Kate Moss by commenting that she smelt like wee, Jefferson Hack, and Bobby Gillespie, again, still squinting despite the darkness. It would appear he’s just squinty. We stare at the heavy curtain that shields the catwalk and what’s to come – excited, really, to collect firsthand such an experience and engage with a performance that, according to show notes, is built on foundations of an ‘Alchemist’s Garden’, which is an ‘anti-modern laboratory’. The notes also present the Egyptian symbol Ouroboros – that of a snake eating its own tail. It’s perhaps suggestive of the cyclical nature of fashion; that all is old is again new. Though is such a symbol not also about the process of self-renewal, of bettering where things have come from and walking towards an improved future? We’re about to find out. Lights up and models stomp along a raised, enclosed plexiglas catwalk – think a human take on the pending Hyperloop. Those walking are far removed from classical etchings of beauty, and instead are angular and mulleted, as unique and striking as the pieces in which they pose, a cast of characters as much as walkers. It’s quickly obvious that Michele has picked up and gently progressed on where things had been left – whimsy and vintage attached to what’s presented, bold pops of colour, lavish touches of embroidery, text-driven logo T-shirts (‘Common Sense Is Not That Common’), as scrawled by the street artist Coco Capitán. It’s wild and elaborate and fun – flowing ’70s suiting in tan meets ’80s punk in ripped denim and a continued affinity for AC/DC T-shirts as high fashion. The accessories, meanwhile, are a heady slate of designs that run from rock ’n’ roll bull rings to Royal Tenenbaums- esque headbands to a incredible wealth of bags – a line that will alone power the buying passion of fanboys for another season. The 119 looks, each styled by Michele, is a co-ed combination (territory in which he’s familiar) allowing insight to the man’s full heart – the two sides beating as one – as well
“I HAVE WITNESSED FIRSTHAND THE AMOUNT OF THOUGHT, CARE AND PASSION HE PUTS INTO EVERYTHING... IT’S INSPIRING.”
THE STARS WERE OUT IN FULL FORCE TO WITNESS MICHELE’S LATEST WORK, EACH WITH THEIR DISTINCT TAKE ON THE GUCCI LOOK. FROM LEFT, FLORENCE WELCH; A$AP ROCKY; HARI NEFF; JARED LETO; ALEXA CHUNG; TOM HIDDLESTON.
as building on his clear desire for inclusivity and blurred gender lines. The man of the moment appears, dressed in a yellow T-shirt, baseball cap, his hair cropped shorter than before at shoulder length. He employs a staggered jog about the various points of the catwalk to bow and take in the standing applause of all present. That sense of anticipation has morphed into appreciation and rousing acceptance. While a humble and quiet man, Michele is very much the wunderkind of reinvention who’s pushed the fabled house of Gucci into a contemporary relevance that arguably rests parallel to Tom Ford’s ‘sexy’ renaissance period of the mid-’90s. Today, he’s again surpassed expectation and driven beyond surprise and answered all questions. For he is fashion’s current king, and his crown’s been more than retained.
Iam not feeling like a special person... it’s not about me.” While Michele is the chief architect of change, his is not a story of ownership or a tale of one man’s singular vision pushing conformity. He allows for the individual to add the personal to his designs – to further interpret and privately engage. As the loftier ends of fashion look to graft maintained aspiration into a greater sense of accessibility – stepping down as dictators in regards to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ – Michele’s approach is very much nuzzled into the now. It’s about freedom within luxury. It’s about the luxury of freedom. “I think that fashion, for a long time, has been in a prison,” Michele’s previously said. “I think that without freedom, with rules, it’s impossible to create a new story... people want you to suggest the idea that you can really put together and create a personal point of view. You have to belong to a brand that has a story, because obviously a brand needs an aesthetic. But you need also to suggest the idea of freedom. Because when you go in the street, people are free to do what they want. There are no rules.” Ultimately – it’s about artistry stitched to singularity, a chance to pen a personal sartorial narrative and break from what’s previously been decreed. It’s why, at the AW17 show’s official afterparty, the fresco-ceilings of what is an historic Milanese high school look down over a crowd that’s interpreted modern Gucci in many different forms. Hiddleston’s at the bar – a bomber jacket and dad jeans replacing his earlier suit, so too latest Michele muse, the artist Petra Collins. A$AP Rocky, meanwhile, is now accessorising with a Polaroid camera (#smile) and new girlfriend, Kendall Jenner. Elsewhere stand ’80s UK punk types with stalagmite-spiked hair, goths and drag queens who’ve dressed as if destined for an after-after steam punk party. In the corner, sits a bolo-tied cowboy (#spaghettiwestern) while young kids wander in wire, Unabomber specs atop Gucci logo T-shirts. There’s also a dude who looks like Rai Thistlethwayte – but then there’s always a dude who looks like Rai Thistlethwayte. Michele has wandered several of the adjoined rooms of the party – taking in the crowd and the many strong words of ‘bravo’, ‘well done’ and ‘wonderful’ that are delivered by those who stand and await his move past. He smiles – a lot. And he’s every right to. For tonight, for all that he’s managed to achieve in just 25 months at the helm. By 2014, Gucci had become staid. It was predictable, unexciting. There was growing concern about what the fabled Italian label was to become – about what its future would look like were it to simply plod along the pocked path it had been walking. Sales were on a dramatic decline. Change was needed and three years ago, scouts tapped all-comers about the top design job – securing a shortlist of potential candidates, a grouping of well-known types who’d delivered elsewhere and would, at the least, bring some fanfare to the Florentine house founded by Guccio Gucci in 1921. Michele’s name wasn’t on any of those lists. He was a ‘backroom boy’ – having quietly ascended, over 12 years at Gucci, to that of head of accessories design (cue that eye for some of the pieces now most coveted). Still, his passion and talents hadn’t gone unnoticed and so he came to the attention of
then newly appointed CEO Marco Bizzarri. A meeting was scheduled. Bizzarri’s since admitted their get together was more a run through of some of those he’d been eyeing off – though he was quickly entranced by Michele, his desires and historical quirks and honest, passionate understanding of all that’s Gucci. “It was unplanned,” Bizzarri’s said of that meeting with Michele. “Someone said to call him. They said, ‘he’s a good guy’.” The pair talked for hours – Bizzarri also engaged by Michele’s interest in antiques, history and what he saw in the Milanese designer’s apartment. “He was wearing the loafer with the fur, he looked like the first model exit in that [first] Gucci show. Then I saw the apartment, the attention to detail, the choice of furniture, the passion for this aesthetic – it was there already, I was seeing what he had in mind.” Michele was named as Giannini’s immediate replacement in January of 2015. “I chose Alessandro when I could have chosen the most talked-about designers in the world,” Bizzarri’s said. “And they were happy to come to Gucci because Gucci is Gucci... I look back and think I was totally crazy [with Alessandro’s appointment]. I put in total danger, at total risk, my career.” Risk. Without it great artistry surely cannot flourish. And so it’s been with Bizzarri and Michele. The latter had but five days to send down his first menswear collection in the new job – it was fresh, divisive, ultimately celebrated. It quickly outed what Michele was about and showed what he could do. And it returned exciting commentary to Gucci. Gender lines were fluid, embellishment was back, so too florals – Michele quickly feted under a swollen set of plaudits. “Gucci has revolutionised its identity,” sprouted Australian Justin O’shea at the time, then a buyer for e-tailer Mytheresa before his own rise to luxury designer. “It sounds easy saying it, but to actually achieve this is one of the most remarkable fashion moments in history. And the best part about it is that it was done with beauty and innocent, unbridled conviction. It has excited the old Gucci customer and captivated new customers, who loved the ‘idea’ of what the brand represents but never clicked with the previous aesthetic.” For the man who first became interested in fashion as a teen – and then studied costume design in Rome, the revolutionary tag is farfetched. “I don’t feel like that,” he’s claimed. “I just feel like myself. If the revolution is the beauty, I’m a revolutionary.” Still, if the revolution’s monetary – then Michele’s influence is Napoleonic. Since he and Bizzarri took hold, Gucci’s come to own the majority of the Kering group under which it sits. That is, 65 per cent of the group’s luxury-division profits now come via the Italian label, Gucci’s last quarter profits up an incredible 21 per cent. Not bad for a recently rudderless outfit. Part of such profit drive is Michele’s embrace of the future – a want to appreciate logos as well as digitisation in the enhancement of the march of the cool. While that doesn’t extend to an immediate purchase model that’s now attached to other runways – as in Burberry, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren and others’ ‘see now, buy now’ model – it’s meant encouraging the kids with some hyped-up explosions of colour and the collision of fun and aspiration. It’s also meant a heady level of desirable (read: re-postable) memes for the Gucci watch line. It’s about an understanding of popular culture. It’s about being contemporary while championing what’s gone before. It’s surely about highlighting what is a bright future. Though, as another text-driven piece from the new AW17 current collection espouses: “What are we going to do with all this future?” Well, according to Michele, the coming days are not about him. “People don’t want to be soldier-like, everybody wearing the same. There is something of the tribe in fashion, but in the end customers get a bit annoyed if you push a particular bag. I’m a designer but also a customer. I’m not inside a glass case. I go outside, I shop. So I’m trying to make beautiful things for people I love.” Thanks Alessandro – we love you back.
“I CHOSE ALESSANDRO WHEN I COULD HAVE CHOSEN THE MOST TALKEDABOUT DESIGNERS IN THE WORLD.”
OF THE 119 LOOKS ON SHOW, MICHELE’S LOVE OF ACCESSORIES FEATURED HEAVILY IN AN ECLECTIC MIX OF PATTERN AND PRINT.