IN­SIDE STORY

Architectural Digest (UAE) - - Contents - WORDS STEPHEN DOIG IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS ALEX MERRY

How Alessan­dro Michele is steer­ing Gucci into dy­namic new ter­ri­tory

How re­nais­sance man Alessan­dro Michele is steer­ing the sto­ried Floren­tine fash­ion

house into dy­namic new ter­ri­tory

From left: Flo­ral and Bees em­broi­dered arm­chair, a

selec­tion of vel­vet cush­ions, Tiger print fold­ing ta­ble, In­ven­tum But­ter­fly and Her­bo­sum Her­bar­ium rooster can­dle, Tiger metal tray, Flo­ral and Bees screen, Chi­avari chair,

all Gucci Dé­cor

When cre­ative di­rec­tor Alessan­dro Michele made his de­but for Gucci at the house’s Jan­uary 2015 men’s show in Mi­lan, he did so with five days’ no­tice. Hav­ing worked un­der pre­vi­ous cre­ative di­rec­tor Frida Gian­nini, he was ush­ered into the spot­light with less than a week to pre­pare, but his mis­sion state­ment – fluid shapes, fly­away fab­rics, Seven­ties’ sil­hou­ettes and lus­cious dec­o­ra­tion – was a re­mark­able volte-face for a brand that had pre­vi­ously traded in vamp­ish glam­our and play­boy style. It re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion, the start of a mo­men­tum that’s con­tin­ued through­out his reign at the house, marked by a dra­matic shift in aes­thetic, an in­tel­li­gent mas­tery of the power of so­cial me­dia, op­u­lent new Floren­tine head­quar­ters and the de­but of a range of stand-out home­ware. “Guc­cify Your­self” was the slo­gan across those snake-print, sold-out T-shirts, and it’s a sen­ti­ment the whole world seems to have taken on board.

“For me, it’s im­por­tant that ev­ery sin­gle thing has a pre­cious­ness to it,” says the softly spo­ken Michele. “I like to make ev­ery sin­gle thing pre­cious in some way, tak­ing some­thing that you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily think of as spe­cial and mak­ing it so.” That vis­ual lan­guage has re­sulted in an ex­u­ber­ant, whim­si­cal aes­thetic in both fash­ion and home­ware; ex­otic an­i­mals, car­toon char­ac­ters and myr­iad sym­bols de­picted in glit­ter­ing em­bel­lish­ment on plush fab­rics, as well as a riot of print from flo­rals to chi­nois­erie. In Michele’s world, more is most def­i­nitely more.

“I love colour, I love an­i­mals, I love the idea of ev­ery sin­gle piece hav­ing an en­ergy to it, do­ing some­thing. Noth­ing is com­pla­cent,” he says. And de­spite the high-oc­tane na­ture of the de­signs (and their knack for mak­ing an im­pact on so­cial me­dia), Michele’s lan­guage also nods to the house’s Ital­ian her­itage. “A lot of it is about my mem­o­ries from the Seven­ties,” he says, “and that’s some­thing that’s al­ways been in­side the house, too.”

The Ker­ing-owned be­he­moth was founded by Guc­cio Gucci in 1921 as a gen­teel lug­gage out­fit­ter in Florence, and be­came known for its el­e­gant flo­ral prints across bags and scarves, and horse-bit loafers, catch­ing the pa­parazzi spot­light thanks to Jackie Kennedy’s patronage as she sum­mered in Capri.

Tom Ford was en­listed in 1990 to launch a ready-towear line, turn­ing it into the hottest la­bel in the world thanks to its unashamedly sen­sual modus operandi, while Frida Gian­nini’s in­car­na­tion of Gucci (from 2006 to 2014) was very much one of soft-fo­cused fem­i­nin­ity.

The brand’s Floren­tine his­tory led Michele and Marco Biz­zarri (the CEO who has given the de­signer’s imag­i­na­tion free reign) to rein­vig­o­rate the sprawl­ing HQ in the city’s cen­tre, terming it the Gucci Gar­den. Call­ing it a ‘flag­ship’ does it a dis­ser­vice, for this is no soul­less, ho­mogenised store. In­stead Michele took the for­mer Gucci Museo in the his­toric Palazzo della Mer­canzia and reimag­ined it en­tirely. “It’s clear now that the world is not in­ter­ested in things that have no soul or mean­ing. With this place I was think­ing about some­where I would love to go, and some­where to have fun.”

Gucci Gar­den func­tions as part ex­hi­bi­tion space, part restau­rant, part book­shop, part home­ware em­po­rium,

and dot­ted amongst the rich­ness – ta­pes­tries, ban­quettes, poi­son-green cor­ri­dors – are the fash­ion prod­ucts. It’s also tes­ta­ment to Michele’s re­tail nous, at a time when all that’s re­quired is a few clicks of the iPad.

Gucci’s new di­rec­tion has paid off hand­somely. In April this year, Ker­ing an­nounced sales had risen by 37% to AED 8.4 bil­lion (US$ 2.3 bil­lion). And while other houses de­bate ways to en­gage with so­cial me­dia, and there­fore Mil­len­ni­als, Gucci is lead­ing the charge, launch­ing fash­ion cam­paigns on In­sta­gram and invit­ing acolytes to be part of the #Gucci Gram uni­verse.

Nat­u­rally then, the next evo­lu­tion was home­ware. For the client who longed to kick off their em­broi­dered mules onto their Gucci cat print rug, and re­cline on their Gucci vel­vet mono­grammed arm­chair, Gucci Dé­cor launched last year. Branch­ing be­yond soft fur­nish­ings and quirky ob­jets into furniture, the col­lec­tion fol­lows in the foot­steps of the house’s fash­ion of­fer­ings with tac­tile fab­rics, rich em­broi­dery, and quirky prints: princely swans drift across hot pink wall­pa­per in silk, cush­ions come in gleam­ing jacquard, and crea­tures such as bee­tles and bees trun­dle or buzz along din­ner­ware sets.

A se­ries of vases dec­o­rated with house slo­gans and flora and fauna are pro­duced in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the his­toric Floren­tine porce­lain spe­cial­ist, Richard Gi­nori. That fab­u­lous scar­let kingsnake mo­tif that Michele rightly em­bla­zons on seem­ingly any Gucci sur­face serves as hand-painted han­dles for the vases. The snakes also ap­pear in ceramic on the lids of can­dle hold­ers, and painted onto the tops of metal fold­ing ta­bles. A high-backed ‘porter’s chair’ with canopied top com­petes with a tufted bub­blegum-pink or­na­men­tal fold­ing screen for most sump­tu­ous state­ment. Us­ing the Gucci app’s pi­o­neer­ing aug­mented real­ity, max­i­mal­ist-minded cus­tomers can se­lect items and vir­tu­ally place them in any space.

De­spite all the suc­cess, Michele is self ef­fac­ing when it comes to de­scrib­ing the alchemy of his work. “It’s like a col­lage in my mind,” he says, “and some­how it all just comes to­gether.” Gucci Dé­cor is avail­able in Gucci stores and bou­tiques, and on­line at Gucci.com

From dresses to din­ner­ware, Michele has imag­ined a whole max­i­mal­ist Gucci world OP­PO­SITE: GG jacquard arm­chairs

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: Sprovve­duta Età fold­ing ta­ble and Mai­son De L’Amour fold­ing ta­ble; Flo­ral and Bees screen, Sprovve­duta Età tray, Eso­ter­icum Bee can­dle, Her­bar­ium Bee­tle in­cense burner, Gucci Vin­tage snake vase, Kingsnake print metal fold­ing ta­ble, Pineap­ple jacquard arm­chair, Guc­ci­fi­ca­tion cush­ion, Needle­point cush­ion; Gucci scented can­dles; A selec­tion of porce­lain table­ware by Richard Gi­nori for Gucci

“I love colour, I love an­i­mals, I love the ideaof ev­ery piece hav­ing an en­ergy to it”

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