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”