The poetic beauty of Provence and its gothic past pro­vided the ul­ti­mate in­spi­ra­tion, and set­ting, for Alessan­dro Michele’s Gucci re­sort ’19 show in Ar­les.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS - By Alice Bir­rell.

The poetic beauty of Provence and its gothic past pro­vided the ul­ti­mate in­spi­ra­tion, and set­ting, for Alessan­dro Michele’s Gucci re­sort ’19 show.

Upon men­tion­ing a visit to Provence, im­ages spring sprite-like to mind. Fields of laven­der spilling oily per­fume into the hot air, poppy-bur­nished fields en­cir­cling farm­houses while clot­ted-white clouds like an im­pres­sion­ist’s im­pasto hang over the scene. Not so for Gucci’s Alessan­dro Michele. Should one be turn­ing an­cient bat­tle­ments and the re­mains of a faded Ro­man em­pire over in their mind – burial grounds in­cluded – it would be nearer Michele’s jump point for the col­lec­tion he is about to show in the small town of Ar­les, one hour’s drive north­west of the city of Mar­seille.

So it is that the pro­lific helms­men of the Gucci mono­lith has spir­ited the fash­ion car­a­van to the bu­colic and all-too-small vil­lage for the Ital­ian house’s re­sort ’19 out­ing. Small, be­cause the 400-strong con­tin­gent of ed­i­tors and VIPs don’t ex­actly fit into the en­tire town’s ac­com­mo­da­tion re­serves and so are sta­tioned at pic­turesque Provençal out­posts. All the bet­ter for us, as days near­ing the show are filled with artis­tic and gas­tro­nomic get-to-knows, in­clud­ing lunch at the Tadao Ando-de­signed and art-stud­ded Chateau La Coste, a ram­ble through the veg­etable gar­den of La Chas­sag­nette, which pro­vides the peas, cher­ries and rhubarb for the restau­rant’s south­ern French fare, and a tour of the Vin­cent van Gogh Foun­da­tion, the artist who set up his ‘stu­dio in the south’ which he and con­tem­po­rary Paul Gau­guin spent eight fraught, but cre­atively yield­ing, weeks in. We emerge with a new­found ap­pre­ci­a­tion of all this and the Ca­mar­gue; marsh­lands where it’s pos­si­ble to spot flamin­gos en masse and wild white horses, or car­maguais, emerge ap­pari­tion-like from the reeds – mo­tifs that feel very Gucci.

As the day nears, and the dainty be­flow­ered show ma­te­rial ap­pears, it seems the Ro­man cre­ative is ag­i­tat­ing for an overtly pretty col­lec­tion. To take any­thing at face value, and any­one faintly fa­mil­iar with Michele’s work is not fool enough to do so, is a trap at Gucci. “All the places I travel to for cruise also be­long to my per­sonal story,” he tells WWD in a pre-show state­ment. “They are heart­felt places, which have a lot of mean­ing to me. Noth­ing is ac­ci­den­tal.”

This be­ing the sec­ond in a three-part homage to France, (the first, a pre-fall cam­paign based on the Parisian protests of 1968, the sec­ond, a de­camp­ment last month to Paris fash­ion week), Michele has se­lected Les Alyscamps, a 4th-cen­tury Ro­man necrop­o­lis built, as was tra­di­tion, on the out­skirts of the town. As show day ar­rives, the weather is high drama. Rain smat­ters the ver­dant fields as cars track in­wards to Ar­les’s cen­tre. As dusk sets aglow the mirac­u­lously clear­ing clouds – it al­most seems fea­si­ble that the Ker­ing-owned multi-bil­lion dol­lar Gucci or­ches­trated that – cryptic words fil­ter in from Michele about the lo­ca­tion, once the cap­i­tal of the Western Ro­man Em­pire, and one of many UNESCO World Her­itage sites of Ro­man ru­ins nearby. It is em­blem­atic, it is a hy­brid, it is gothic and, we are told, “with a rock’n’roll soul”, guided to look be­yond ap­pear­ances.

Guests in­clud­ing El­ton John, A$AP Rocky, Saoirse Ro­nan and Gia Cop­pola file past sar­cophagi, tops miss­ing, down a path lit by gothic can­de­labras to a crypt ob­scured by smoke. With a show­man’s knack for tim­ing, flames flare on the run­way at the tick of night­fall. To the sound­track of Clau­dio Mon­teverdi’s Ves­pers for the Blessed Vir­gin, Michele pa­raded mo­tifs typ­i­cally rich and var­ied in an abun­dant 114 looks.

It has been clear for a long time that Michele isn’t set­ting out col­lec­tions in clearly the­mat­i­cally di­vis­i­ble chap­ters – all is made to meld with the next and the past – but the mys­tic over­tures this time were a gras­pable thread. Re­li­gious rit­ual shone through in cru­ci­fix brooches and dec­o­ra­tive flounces in tas­sels and em­broi­dery. Brides in tiered white cot­ton and Sun­day-best grandma bags and skirt suits joined rock’n’roll way­far­ers in vel­vet robe coats that veered cler­i­cal. At play was a du­al­ity: saints and sin­ners, life and death as op­pos­ing forces that seethed be­low the sur­face in a typ­i­cally deca­dent mix. Mourn­ing wid­ows, bou­quets or rosary beads in hand, read as death and love com­bined.

Be­gin­ning in an­cient cul­tures and con­tin­u­ing in some churches of the Chris­tian faith, loved ones’ bones were dis­in­terred sev­eral years af­ter their death and lov­ingly dec­o­rated by hand. Michele spoke later of “death as fas­ci­na­tion”, and his high points were spec­tral dis­plays of fem­i­nin­ity and the macabre. Hats, with sin­gle long feath­ers – in­spired by Frank Olive, milliner to Diana Ross – topped dipped-in-se­quins evening looks em­bla­zoned with skulls and one black vel­vet dress with skele­tal ribs over­laid. “This idea is that ev­ery­thing that is linked to the af­ter­life is ac­com­pa­nied by some­thing of max­i­mum beauty,” he wrote on so­cial me­dia.

At the other end were raver sneak­ers, vinyl buckle pants and leather party dresses (re­mem­ber 55 per cent of Gucci cus­tomers are mil­len­ni­als), more S&M than RIP. As ever with Gucci, the join­ing of two dis­parate el­e­ments cre­ates an inim­itable fris­son. Chateau Mar­mont mo­tifs – an of­fi­cial col­lab­o­ra­tion – might not seem to have any­thing to do with me­mento mori wo­ven on pants, for ex­am­ple, but con­sider the phrase was a re­minder of the fleet­ing na­ture of earthly plea­sures and just clock one of the bac­cha­na­lian nights that have oc­curred at the Los An­ge­les stal­wart.

When Dante Alighieri vis­ited the for­mer Ro­man strong­hold of Les Baux, half an hour away, he was en­thralled by the dwellings built cave­like into the rock. In the ge­ol­ogy, stretched and streaked in black and white, he saw ghoul­ish stricken faces. They were to in­spire his In­ferno, go­ing on to write Alyscamps into his­tory in his com­plete Di­vine Com­edy. Where some saw ru­ins, Michele saw in­trigue. In his world a mo­tif beams out the meta­phys­i­cal, and an op­por­tu­nity to show it’s worth go­ing be­yond what we see on the sur­face.

In this vein he un­veiled his fi­nal il­lu­sion: a show guest be­comes a star. Af­ter at­ten­dees were ush­ered into a gar­den party, re­plete with ice-cold vodka shots on sil­ver trays, Michele took to the stage. “Just a few words to in­tro­duce one of my best friends now, and one of the sweet­est per­sons on Earth. A re­ally, re­ally huge and un­be­liev­able artist. It’s Sir El­ton John.” The icon and friend of the house per­formed five songs as some ed­i­tors and mod­els shed a tear at the in­ti­mate dis­play. “I was sup­posed to be Lana Del Rey,” the per­former joked. In Gucci’s world at least, noth­ing is ever what it seems.

A gown from Gucci re­sort ’19 on the flame-lined run­way at the prom­e­nade des Alyscamps, Ar­les, France.

Sin­gle-feather hats in­spired by milliner Frank Olive.

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