“The Contemporary is the Untimely”
The quote is by Roland Barthes and it’s the fitting pretext to the Gucci Women’s Fall/Winter 2015-2016 collection – Creative director Alessandro Michele’s debut show for Gucci.
They say that the geeks are taking over the world. But did anyone ever imagine that intellectuals would commandeer that most glitzy of fashion houses, Gucci?
That was the story at Milan fashion week on Wednesday, as the luxury brand’s new creative director, Alessandro Michele, presented his first womenswear collection. Traditionally, Gucci shows are full of clear references to the jet-setter’s lifestyle – bling-encrusted red carpet gowns or nautical blazers perfect for super yachts. On Wednesday, even before the models took to the catwalk, it was clear that this would be different.
Gone were the plush pale carpets, glittering chandeliers and trays of champagne that traditionally greet Gucci’s guests. Instead, the venue was pared back. The walls, floors and ceilings were painted black. Show notes referenced philosophers Giorgio Agamben and Roland Barthes (“the contemporary is the untimely”). In lieu of the usual amphitheatre seating – where guests used to gossip and celebrity spot while facing each other across the catwalk – seats were arranged to face the edges of the room, providing an altogether more introspective experience.
Rather than the usual supermodels in sweeping gowns, the models were slight and long-haired, both male and female, cast and styled so their gender was obscured. Clothes were not brazenly sexy – this was librarian chic, with most looks styled with glasses.
There were midi skirts, tank tops, brightly coloured fur coats and huge furry shoes akin to those produced by rival brand Céline. Flowers are a major part of Gucci’s heritage – the brand’s Flora design was famously created for Grace Kelly in the 1960s – and they were in evidence here, though in subversive ways. Men wore stems in their hair; floral fabric was used to beautiful effect on pleated transparent dresses and boxy suits for both genders. Fur-cuffed military coats brought to mind the outerwear in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel while pussybow blouses recalled the edgy designs of JW Anderson.
There were jaunty artist’s berets (Salma Hayek, whose husband Francois-Henri Pinault is CEO of Gucci parent company Kering, wore a turquoise one in the front row) and tight bobble hats that recalled another famous Wes Anderson costume: Bill Murray’s beanie in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The only hint of the Gucci logo itself was seen, occasionally and subtly, on belt buckles and on the two bags that appeared in the show. It was a restrained move for a house so associated with leather goods.
Michele’s debut came after a tough few months for Gucci. In December, it announced that chief executive Patrizio di Marco and creative director Frida Giannini, one of fashion’s most famous power couples, were to leave after 11 years. Their departure was linked with falling sales, with Gucci’s lacklustre results comparing unfavourably to those of the revitalised Kering stablemate Saint Laurent.
Gucci, the analysts said, was failing the increasingly sophisticated luxury consumer, who is tired of obvious bling and hungry for something more unique. In this respect, Gucci was losing out to under-the-radar brands like Bottega Veneta and Céline.
Who could solve this problem? Rumours swirled about the identity of Giannini’s replacement, with most assuming a name to match the star power of Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton. In January, however, it emerged that Giannini had left the company early – five days before the presentation of the brand’s menswear collection – and head accessories designer Michele was to take over.
Despite his relative anonymity, Michele’s dramatically different aesthetic, also in evidence in January’s rushed-together menswear show, won headlines. Still, difficulties within the company were underlined even on the morning of Wednesday’s show, when a letter from former CEO Di Marco found its way to the New York Times. In it, he suggested he had been forced out of the company, saying: “against my will, I leave my cathedral uncompleted.”
Backstage, Michele said he knew the Gucci archive “so well – better than my own flat” but that he had to design in his own way. He seemed almost eerily relaxed, looking like the archetypal hippie with long hair and a full beard, wearing a shell necklace and stacks of silver rings. “This is my language,” he said. “I can’t speak another language.”
And he was smiling as cheers came from the crowd and from the models. In the crush backstage, champagne was finally poured.
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