At the launch of Gucci’s lat­est fra­grance, ac­tor Jared Leto, the face of Gucci Guilty, talks to Emma Bart­ley about his friend­ship with the brand’s cre­ative di­rec­tor Alessan­dro Michele, and how they in­spire each other

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Curled up by the fire­place in a fash­ion­able Lon­don ho­tel, Jared Leto speaks slowly and thought­fully. “I think that Alessan­dro does some­thing very spe­cial,” he says of Gucci’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, Alessan­dro Michele. “He puts so much love, care and joy into his work that when you wear Gucci, you’re not just wear­ing some­thing that’s beau­ti­ful or pretty, you’re ac­tu­ally – you’re feel­ing the same thing that he feels when he’s mak­ing it.”

The two men have formed a fas­ci­nat­ing friend­ship since Michele, hav­ing taken the Gucci la­bel in a sur­pris­ing new de­sign di­rec­tion, chose Leto as the face of the Gucci Guilty fra­grance in De­cem­ber 2015. When asked if the two share a clas­sic artist-muse re­la­tion­ship, the ac­tor and mu­si­cian jokes of his de­signer friend that “you could say he’s my muse”. Yet, the two do seem to in­spire each other cre­atively. From their ap­pear­ances on the red car­pet to the Gucci-clad city breaks they share on In­sta­gram, the two men seem to blend work and fun.

What makes it com­pelling to an on­looker is the sense that both treat their lives as works of art. For a method ac­tor such as Leto, the lines be­tween per­for­mance and re­al­ity are al­ready blurred. The Academy Award­win­ner for Dal­las Buy­ers Club likes to in­habit his char­ac­ters dur­ing the course of film­ing – fa­mously send­ing his co-stars bizarre gi s while play­ing the Joker on Sui­cide Squad, and in­sist­ing the crew re­fer to him as Joker or Mr J. Un­usu­ally for an ac­tor with his per­fect bone struc­ture, he has never made a rom­com, favour­ing in­stead gritty and chal­leng­ing roles in films such as Re­quiem for a Dream (for which he spent weeks liv­ing on the streets of New York) and Chap­ter 27 (for which he gained so much weight, he re­port­edly gave him­self gout). “I don’t make very many movies,” he says, “but when I do, I tend to play more o eat char­ac­ters. I like that; it’s in­ter­est­ing, you know?”

We know. And if we didn’t know be­fore, Miche­le­and-Leto-era Gucci has con­vinced us. Look­ing at pic­tures of the pair sim­ply hang­ing out – Michele’s long hair tum­bling over the shoul­ders of a white, stud­ded biker jacket adorned with colour­ful flow­ers that echo the large pink rose ap­pliquéd onto Leto’s satin bomber jacket, in one shot seen by mil­lions of In­sta­gram fol­low­ers – it’s hard to re­mem­ber a time when min­i­mal­ism was the or­der of the day. And yet when Michele erupted onto the fash­ion scene less than two years ago, the ma­jor fash­ion houses (Gucci in­cluded) had dri ed so far down the line of sim­ple lines and neu­tral shades as to gen­er­ate a trend known as norm­core – de­fined by no less a source than the Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary as mean­ing “de­lib­er­ately un­re­mark­able clothes”.

Rich and eclec­tic, full of bold ideas and quirky de­tails, Michele’s au­tumn/win­ter 2015 col­lec­tion seemed to dis­rupt an en­tire fash­ion era. When asked why he thinks his friend’s work has proven so in­flu­en­tial, Leto sug­gests: “It’s a cel­e­bra­tion of life, and by ac­quir­ing it and wear­ing it you in turn have a sense of this joy, this cel­e­bra­tion. An­i­mals and na­ture and flow­ers and colours and tex­ture. He makes some­thing that we covet.”

Michele’s up­dated bo­hemian style has been hugely in­flu­en­tial on A-lis­ters and de­sign­ers alike. And yet, chal­leng­ing the style or­tho­doxy prob­a­bly wasn’t the so -spo­ken Ital­ian’s in­ten­tion; he was just be­ing him­self. “Those who are truly con­tem­po­rary are those who nei­ther per­fectly co­in­cide with their time nor adapt to its de­mands,” read a note placed on seats at that first show, quot­ing the biopo­lit­i­cal philoso­pher Giorgio Agam­ben.

It’s un­sur­pris­ing, then, that for Gucci Guilty Ab­so­lute, his first fra­grance, which launches in the UAE next month, Michele has cre­ated some­thing highly dis­tinc­tive. A blend of leather­wood, ve­tiver and patchouli, it calls to mind a richly dressed man in a li­brary, sur­rounded by leather-bound books, an open, roar­ing fire, and per­haps a smok­ing jacket. The ef­fect is mes­meris­ing. To cre­ate the scent, mas­ter per­fumer Al­berto Mo­ril­las cus­tom-mixed two lead­ing notes: a leather ac­cord called woodleather, which is a trib­ute to Gucci’s leather-mak­ing roots, and gold­en­wood, which is a new nat­u­ral ex­tract of the Nootka cy­press. Mo­ril­las dis­cov­ered this in­gre­di­ent un­der an old bell jar in the Royal Botan­i­cal Gar­dens’ archive, and se­lected it specif­i­cally for Gucci Guilty Ab­so­lute. The re­sult­ing scent of­fers ul­tra-dry woody notes steeped with depth and com­plex­ity. Com­ple­ment­ing the com­po­si­tion are three types of patchouli oil, as well as the more fresh-smelling ve­tiver.

“Alessan­dro has a big col­lec­tion of many, many, many per­fumes,” says Mo­ril­las, who worked closely with Michele on the scent. “He asked me: ‘Can you make a new patchouli for me?’ And he told me ex­actly what he wants, be­cause he’s very cre­ative. My chal­lenge was to make a dif­fer­ent prod­uct – very dif­fer­ent, very Gucci, by Alessan­dro.” Al­though its woody char­ac­ter makes the scent seem more mas­cu­line, Mo­ril­las ar­gues that Ab­so­lute can be worn by a man or a woman. “It’s not re­ally mas­cu­line or fem­i­nine … it’s an Alessan­dro per­fume. His choice.”

It’s im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent, see­ing Leto perched by the fire­side with his elfin crop, why the strik­ing ac­tor was cho­sen as the face of the male and fe­male Gucci Guilty fra­grances. “I think they were look­ing for some­one dif­fer­ent, some­one maybe who didn’t fit the mould,” the ac­tor agrees. “There’s an idea of mas­culin­ity that’s some kind of big brawny, hand­some, manly man, and I think they were look­ing for some­one who is a bit un­ex­pected, maybe? And that’s why they ap­proached me.”

The Ab­so­lute fra­grance’s press launch in De­cem­ber was timed to co­in­cide with the Fash­ion Awards in Lon­don, where Gucci’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Marco Biz­zarri, and cre­ative di­rec­tor were both on the Bri­tish Fash­ion Coun­cil’s shortlist. Biz­zarri and Michele’s nom­i­na­tions re­flect just how in­flu­en­tial the house has be­come, and with Leto pre­sent­ing for In­ter­na­tional Ac­ces­sories De­signer, Michele was widely ex­pected to win his cat­e­gory. (He did.)

When the friends ar­rive to­gether, flash­bulbs pop end­lessly for their star­tling cos­tumes: the Ital­ian in a me­tal­lic bro­cade suit with flared trousers, the Amer­i­can look­ing like some man­ner of priest with a long, em­broi­dered, scar­let coat that has been draped, robe-like, over a black tuxedo jacket, tuxedo stripe bur­gundy trousers and Gucci loafers worn with white socks. In case the eclec­tic em­broi­dery on the coat (which in­cludes the un­likely com­bi­na­tion of a Ja­panese fish and Don­ald Duck) is not enough adorn­ment, a yel­low crys­tal bow has also been tied at Leto’s neck.

To see Gucci tri­umph in both its cat­e­gories is heart-warm­ing. “If I’m stand­ing here tonight, it is un­doubt­edly be­cause we have a cre­ative vi­sion­ary who is bring­ing the soul of this great brand to life, so thank you Alessan­dro,” says Biz­zarri, cor­dially ac­cept­ing the In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Leader award. For his part, Michele seems a lit­tle bash­ful speak­ing in English to a global au­di­ence. “I prom­ise that I will dream for­ever, be­cause fash­ion is about a beau­ti­ful dream,” he says, to rap­tur­ous ap­plause.

The line re­calls some­thing that Leto has said ear­lier, about the role that fra­grance plays for him when he gets dressed. “When you put some­thing like this on, there should be some an­tic­i­pa­tion or some hope or ex­pec­ta­tion that there is go­ing to be an ad­ven­ture,” he muses. “Even if it’s just go­ing out and hav­ing an un­for­get­table night with your friends. There are rea­sons, I guess, that we do this. You put a tie on or a nice pair of shoes or you put a watch on, maybe it’s a nice watch, maybe it’s not the watch you would wear if you’re work­ing in the back­yard or some­thing. It’s rit­ual.”

For an­other per­fume, an­other brand, this al­most spir­i­tual rhetoric might seem over­done. At Gucci, how­ever, that is the point. From the chief ex­ec­u­tive to the cre­ative di­rec­tor to the per­fumer to the muse, ev­ery­one has de­cided to take a risk and cre­ate some­thing mean­ing­ful. As with Michele’s ready-towear col­lec­tions, Gucci Guilty Ab­so­lute might not be ev­ery­one’s cup of tea. But you can­not help but ad­mire the artistry of it.

It’s not re­ally mas­cu­line or fem­i­nine ... it’s an Alessan­dro per­fume

Above le , Jared Leto in the Gucci Guilty Ab­so­lute cam­paign. Be­low, per­fumer Al­berto Mo­ril­las cus­tom-blended lead­ing notes of woodleather and gold­en­wood for the new fra­grance.

BROTH­ERS IN ARMS Le and on pre­vi­ous page, Gucci’s cre­ative di­rec­tor Alessan­dro Michele, le , and ac­tor Jared Leto at the Fash­ion Awards in Lon­don. Be­low, the new Gucci Guilty Ab­so­lute fra­grance.

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