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.

GQ (Australia) - - ALL HAIL THE KING -

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.

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