In a grave­yard in the French town of Ar­les, Gucci’s Alessan­dro Michele proves his cre­ative ge­nius once again, writes Sarah Maisey

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While they used to be a series of small, mid-sea­son fash­ion drops, the cruise, or re­sort, col­lec­tions have since mor­phed into huge-scale spec­ta­cles. Cruise col­lec­tions are where de­sign­ers are given free rein to pro­duce what­ever they feel, and then un­veil those cre­ations in in­creas­ingly lav­ish pre­sen­ta­tions. We have wit­nessed cruise shows at the Os­car Niemeyer li­brary in Brazil, cour­tesy of Louis Vuit­ton; in a replica of a ship, by Chanel; and as an ode to horse­man­ship, from Dior. How­ever, for sheer creepy, at­mo­spheric bril­liance, noth­ing tops Alessan­dro Michele’s Gucci cruise 2019 show, which was set in the an­cient grave­yard of Alyscamps.

Lo­cated in the south­ern French town of Ar­les (fa­mously im­mor­talised in the paint­ings of Vin­cent van Gogh, and known as the birth­place of de­signer Chris­tian Lacroix), Prom­e­nade Des Alyscamps is a Ro­man-era necrop­o­lis – the fi­nal rest­ing place of the rulers who once presided over this land. De­rived from the Latin Elisii Campi (which be­came Champ­sÉlysées in French and Elysian Fields in English), the grave­yard is si­t­u­ated out­side the walls of the old city. It was this arena into which Gucci ush­ered 400 guests to wit­ness the un­veil­ing of its cruise of­fer­ing.

As dark­ness fell, I walked – along­side Saoirse Ro­nan, A$AP Rocky, Salma Hayek and, fit­tingly, Lacroix him­self – through the burial ground, which was il­lu­mi­nated by can­dles, against the haunt­ing choral strains of Ves­pers of the Blessed Vir­gin by Clau­dio Mon­teverdi. We took our seats on mir­rored boxes, cast­ing ner­vous glances at the stone sar­cophagi be­hind us, as smoke crept up from the sunken church­yard, lit a Dante-es­que orange.

Amid an omi­nous clang­ing of bells, flames raced along the length of the run­way, as mod­els emerged from the mist. Nor­mally, they are spaced well apart on a run­way – to bet­ter see the clothes – but here, all 114 looks (for both men and women) were packed tightly to­gether, as if for pro­tec­tion.

Through the mist, a sim­ple padded coat and skirt in pink – fas­tened at the neck by a cru­ci­fix – were quickly fol­lowed by a black gown that spilled off the shoul­ders. Fit­tingly for the set­ting, an­other black vel­vet dress swept past with a skele­tal torso lav­ishly stitched across it, while a male model wore a bell­bot­tomed vel­vet suit, cut slim and worn with a pussy­bow blouse, car­ry­ing a fu­ne­real bou­quet.

House sig­na­tures – in­clud­ing checks, flo­rals and em­broi­dered tigers – were abun­dant, seen on suits un­der smok­ing jack­ets, se­quin jumpers over ze­braprint trousers and skil­fully clash­ing flo­rals on both gen­ders. One boy stepped out in head-to-toe se­quins as sports­wear, while a girl wore a shim­mer­ing crys­tal­strewn dress, amid a ca­cophony of brightly clash­ing tops and skirts.

Scat­tered through­out were tightly clasped belts, neon back­packs, head­scarves, head­dresses and eyewear. One model was Har­ris Reed, a ris­ing young star from Cen­tral Saint Mar­tins who dressed Harry

Styles on tour, and here wore a full-length bro­cade coat. So se­cure in his tal­ent is Michele that he even handed Reed con­trol of the Gucci so­cial me­dia plat­forms for the du­ra­tion of the cruise event.

As a self-de­scribed fash­ion mag­pie, Michele drew from myr­iad in­flu­ences, such as 1980s shell suits with thick-soled train­ers, the murky past of the Chateau Mar­mont Ho­tel in Los An­ge­les, and the Pan logo, which was splashed over sweat tops and bags. Set in a church­yard, there were in­evitable Catholic ref­er­ences, such as rich vel­vets ren­dered into floor-sweep­ing capes, mul­ti­ple riffs on vest­ment purple and end­less crosses seen clasped at throats, stitched as bodices or car­ried rev­er­ently with two hands.

Amid all the ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal guilt un­der­pin­ning the show, thank­fully Michele also chose to nod to his freespir­ited Ro­man fore­bears, seen in lighter mo­ments as a plissé god­dess gown and one-shoul­dered dresses.

But the cre­ative di­rec­tor’s main draw is his adept han­dling of pat­terns and colours that, in the real world, have no place be­ing seen to­gether. Tiered green dresses, long trail­ing feather head­dresses and dou­ble­breasted great coats – each came with its own twist. Lace ap­peared as dresses, tights and opera gloves, in lurid greens, pinks and Madonna Like a Vir­gin white. Seen as a whole, the ef­fect is al­most over­whelm­ing but, bro­ken down, the col­lec­tion was filled with cov­etable pieces that will make mil­len­ni­als drool.

Neatly bow-fronted patent shoes gleamed, while midi-skirts swung slug­gishly un­der the weight of beaded flow­ers. Even punk raised its head – as a Billy Idol leather jacket – placed next to a gos­samer sil­ver em­broi­dered lace shift and cape. Else­where, snake­skin an­kle boots sat with a bro­cade skirt, church em­broi­dery and In­dian phulkari silk-floss stitch­ing – a com­bi­na­tion I defy any­one but Michele to pull off.

To close the show, a boy wore an over­sized jacket and lit­tle else, and as the clos­ing bride (that all-white look that sig­nals the fi­nale of a col­lec­tion) swept past – the crino­lined skirts per­ilously close to the flames – her pres­ence seemed to chase away the re­li­gious demons. Young, fresh and res­o­lutely de­fi­ant, this sen­sory over­load is what Gucci has made its own. There are many, many tal­ented fash­ion de­sign­ers in this world, yet none seem to con­jure a mo­ment like Michele. His abil­ity to cre­ate an at­mos­phere that lingers long af­ter the clothes have gone is re­mark­able, not least in this gone-in-an-in­stant In­sta­gram age.

I have been for­tu­nate to at­tend many fash­ion shows over the years, but for sheer hell­fire and pesti­lence, for hairs-stand­ing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck trans­porta­tion into the realm of Hierony­mus Bosch and Dante, noth­ing has ever come close to Gucci’s cruise 2019 show. The most touch­ing part of the en­tire evening came dur­ing the af­ter-party, as El­ton John played a mini con­cert for us all, and Michele – the dar­ling of the fash­ion uni­verse, the man with the world at his feet – sat on stage watch­ing him play, as spell­bound and awestruck as the rest of us.

The cruise col­lec­tion fea­tures myr­iad colours and tex­tures, some adorned with Gucci sig­na­tures, such as checks, flo­rals and em­broi­dered tigers

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