Light­ing up the run­way with ir­rev­er­ent sen­su­al­ity and a bold sense of won­der, de­signer Alessan­dro Michele has Gucci burn­ing through the fine fash­ion fir­ma­ment.

Michigan Avenue - - STYLE - by RACHEL FELDER


And to many of its fans, the brand’s amaz­ing pop­u­lar­ity— marked by wait­ing lists for its most buzzed-about items, with vel­vet-roped lines of shop­pers snaking out­side its flag­ship US bou­tiques, as well as a global sales spike of more than 40 per­cent through the first half of 2017—--can be at­trib­uted to one man: Cre­ative Di­rec­tor Alessan­dro Michele.

Michele, a 44-year-old na­tive of Rome, has in­fused the Gucci line with a the­atri­cal sense of con­fi­dence that’s hard to re­sist, from cloth­ing fea­tur­ing brash, col­or­ful prints to shoes and bags ac­cen­tu­ated with un­ex­pected flour­ishes like fur or em­broi­dery. A key el­e­ment of its cur­rent suc­cess has been the fa­mil­iar­ity of cer­tain de­tails, like horse-bit tog­gles and thick red and green pip­ing, that come straight from the brand’s archives—al­though their cur­rent ver­sions have been spunkily up­dated for the day’s zeit­geist. As Michele told Vogue in 2015, soon af­ter his ap­point­ment to his cur­rent role, “I am try­ing to cause a lit­tle rev­o­lu­tion in­side the com­pany—to push an­other lan­guage, a dif­fer­ent way to talk about beauty and sex­i­ness.”

The house was founded in Florence nearly a cen­tury ago, in 1921, with an ini­tial fo­cus—like Prada, Her­mès, Louis Vuitton, and other now-iconic high-end brands—on lug­gage and leather goods. Af­ter sev­eral suc­cess­ful decades, Gucci’s pop­u­lar­ity was am­pli­fied in the 1950s and ’60s when celebri­ties be­gan to em­brace new items like rigid top-han­dled purses and golden belt buck­les in the shape of large cap­i­tal G’s, ori­ented, like the faces of Janus, back to back. In that era, the brand be­came vir­tu­ally syn­ony­mous with a glitzy, glam­orous, in­ter­na­tional life­style. “It was very iden­ti­fi­able,” says Cameron Sil­ver, a fash­ion his­to­rian and founder of the vin­tage re­tailer Decades. “It iden­ti­fied that aes­thetic of a very jet-set traveler. The bam­boo han­dle and the dou­ble-g mo­tif are iconic.”

A few decades later, Gucci re­de­fined it­self as more than just

a source of lux­ury ac­ces­sories. Un­der de­signer Tom Ford— who joined the com­pany as cre­ative di­rec­tor in 1990, ini­tially over­see­ing women’s cloth­ing de­sign and grad­u­ally tran­si­tion­ing into a larger, more uni­sex de­sign role—the brand be­gan to fo­cus as much on cloth­ing for women and men as on ac­ces­sories. Ford’s pieces were dis­tin­guished by an overt, ul­tra­con­fi­dent sex­i­ness. “He gets there and in­jects an al­most Amer­i­can, Hal­ston-like DNA into Gucci, and there’s this spec­tac­u­lar re­vival,” says Sil­ver. The brand be­came highly fash­ion­able again, with mem­o­rable pieces like ex­tra-trim women’s tuxe­dos, cut in vel­vet and de­signed to be worn with­out a shirt un­der­neath, a look still em­blem­atic of the pe­riod.

Ford stayed at the house (ul­ti­mately also over­see­ing de­sign at Yves Saint Laurent, which shares own­er­ship with Gucci) un­til 2004, when he left, along with Gucci Group CEO Domenico De Sole, a key cham­pion of both Ford and the brand. The de­signs of his suc­ces­sor, Frida Gian­nini, lacked the assertive oomph that had be­come a com­po­nent of Gucci’s ap­peal. “The clothes lost a bit of their sen­su­al­ity,” says Ken Down­ing, fash­ion di­rec­tor at Neiman Mar­cus. “That Gucci guy and girl want to be no­ticed. They’re at­ten­tionget­ting—they are not wall­flow­ers, and they want clothes that have a real sex­i­ness to them.”

And so early 2015 saw the in­stal­la­tion of a new cre­ative di­rec­tor, Alessan­dro Michele, who had qui­etly worked on the Gucci de­sign team since be­ing hired by Ford in 2002. His take on Gucci’s sex­i­ness is em­pow­ered and mod­ern, ex­em­pli­fied by the fluid cut of a boldly printed dress, or the trans­par­ent fabric on an oth­er­wise straight­for­ward, high-neck blouse. But the real power of Michele’s de­signs comes from be­ing rooted in the brand’s most iden­ti­fi­able mo­tifs, re­worked in a quirky and con­fi­dent way that makes them mod­ern but still in­deli­ble; of­ten the de­signs’ over-the-top im­pact anoints them with true state­ment-piece sta­tus.

“There’s the great love of tra­di­tion in a very au­da­cious way, where he has taken the sen­si­bil­ity of her­itage and love of things that feel very rec­og­niz­able and he’s twisted them in a way that makes them feel über­cool and of-the­mo­ment,” says Down­ing. Case in point: Michele’s rein­ter­pre­ta­tions of Gucci’s pop­u­lar loafers, em­bel­lished with em­broi­dered de­signs or gi­ant faux pearls and up­dated with a clunky high heel and—in what might well be the most copied shoe of the last few years—lined with fur and turned into a leather back­less slide.


“The chord that Alessan­dro’s re­ally struck is that there’s an enor­mous love for the idea of Gucci,” Down­ing adds. “That’s a love that be­gan when Tom Ford took over that fêted house decades ago, and as the house be­gan to fall from fa­vor, it left be­hind many loyalists to the Gucci brand who were truly yearn­ing for some­thing ex­cep­tional.”

The tim­ing of Michele’s pro­mo­tion couldn’t have been bet­ter. As Lisa Aiken, re­tail fash­ion di­rec­tor at Net-a-porter, ex­plains, “Alessan­dro’s first col­lec­tion came at a point when ac­tu­ally ev­ery­thing was a lit­tle more stripped back. We were com­ing off the back of what was termed ‘norm­core,’ so it brought back this quite ro­man­tic vi­sion of what fash­ion could be. It in­spired a much more emo­tional re­ac­tion.” In early 2015, the first pre­sen­ta­tions of Michele’s cre­ations—a group of men’s pieces that he fa­mously whipped up in just a few days, fol­lowed by wom­enswear a month later—gar­nered raves from both the

press and shop­pers, who re­sponded vis­cer­ally to his spunky retro-in­spired prints, his el­e­gant drap­ing, and a broad color pal­ette that in­cluded brights, neu­trals, and muted shades of mus­tard, olive, and ma­roon.

Un­like some fine fash­ion pieces that evoke an emo­tional re­ac­tion in their buy­ers, Michele’s items are of-the-mo­ment but don’t feel as if they’ll go out of style next sea­son, plus they sell for a price that’s ad­mit­tedly high but less as­tro­nom­i­cal than other brands. “Alessan­dro doesn’t cre­ate fash­ion for the sake of a trend; he cre­ates col­lectibles,” says Down­ing. “In gen­eral terms, of all of the brands that hang in the lux­ury spec­trum, it is a lot of look for the money you’re spend­ing. That puts a lot of joy in the cus­tomer’s heart.”

In his hand­ful of sea­sons as cre­ative di­rec­tor, Michele has of­fered new it­er­a­tions of some of the de­signs that have most res­onated with Gucci’s fans, from boldly printed dresses and sep­a­rates to white leather sneak­ers cov­ered with ser­pents or bright crim­son flow­ers. “I love the fact that he is evolv­ing and de­vel­op­ing rather than start­ing fresh ev­ery sea­son,” says Net-a-porter’s Aiken. “That gives women the sense of ‘Ac­tu­ally, I’m go­ing to pur­chase this; it is an in­vest­ment, it has longevity, it’s go­ing to feel rel­e­vant for sea­sons to come be­cause he isn’t rad­i­cal­iz­ing ev­ery sea­son with some­thing new.’”

She adds, “I think he’s be­ing very smart.”

Fall/win­ter 2017 Run­way Stand­outs

“I am try­ing to cause a lit­tle rev­o­lu­tion, a dif­fer­ent way to talk about beauty and sex­i­ness,” Alessan­dro Michele said upon his ap­point­ment as Gucci’s cre­ative di­rec­tor in 2015, a sen­si­bil­ity seen through­out the house’s re­cent Fall/ Win­ter col­lec­tions...

In good com­pany (ƟƫƨƦ ƚƛƨưƞ): Ac­tor Alessan­dro Borghi, pho­tog­ra­pher Ryan Mcgin­ley, artist Trevor An­drew (who col­lab­o­rated on last year’s Guc­cighost cap­sule col­lec­tion), mu­si­cian Olly Alexan­der, ac­tor Jared Leto, and Gucci Pres­i­dent and CEO Marco...

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