The current incarnation of Gucci is either completely absurd, or utterly brilliant. After two years with designer Alessandro Michele in charge, it is beginning to look as if it must be both.
The slogan T-shirts, Sesame Street colours, stick-on pearls, triangular silhouettes and woodland animals straight from nursery wallpaper do not adhere to any previously known rules of stylish dressing – and yet the label gains more fans with every season. In the last quarter of 2016, during which Michele’s third womenswear collection was on the shopfloor, growth accelerated from an already impressive 17% to a new high of 21%.
Gucci’s latest catwalk show, a blockbuster collection of 60 looks for men and 40 for women, was staged in its imposing new headquarters, which are a symbol of this success. A theatre-height purple velvet curtain lifted to reveal a catwalk in a plexiglass tunnel of the type found in airport terminals, which wound around a metal pyramid topped with a rooster weathervane.
The easiest moniker for the Gucci look is “geek chic”. Heavy spectacles are embellished with diamante. Dresses with gauche, outsize frills look like something a well-meaning but clueless mum would buy for her daughter’s teenage prom. Kooky extras, like an unusual shoe or a mink tennis sweatband, pop up around the edges of the look like thought bubbles.
Geek chic is the Gucci mindset as well as the Gucci mood board, because what makes the brand compelling is the way it scrambles together being clever with being pretty. The invitation for the show was a gatefold album sleeve with the slogan “What are we going to do with all this future?” written by graffiti artists Coco Capitan. Inside, Florence Welch reading from Blake’s Innocence and Experience and A$AP Rocky reading Wentworth’s love letter to Anne Elliot from Jane Austen’s Persuasion were recorded on to vinyl.
After the show, Michele, wearing a Gucci T-shirt with the Capitan-daubed legend “I want to go back to beliving [sic] in a story” and a New York Yankees cap embroidered with a butterfly and his nickname, Lallo, was bombarded with good wishes from Salma Hayek to Bobby Gillespie and campaign star Tom Hiddleston. He greeted each with a sincere, priestly clasp of one of their hands between both of his.
The core Gucci theme is celebration of diversity. Gender is fluid; the established binaries of sexual predator and prey are brushed aside. Age-appropriate dressing is blown out of the water, ancient snobberies of chic or trashy do not apply. This philosophy was given rigour when Gucci recently became the first luxury brand to join Parks, a nonprofit organisation aimed at promoting diversity in the workplace, with a focus on sexual orientation and gender identity. A notably diverse casting in this show, and recent trailers for an upcoming advertising campaign featuring exclusively black models, underlined the new Gucci as not just a look but a way of thinking.
Each look is a riot of colour and detail. A knit balaclava fastened with silk roses is tucked into a striped cardigan cinched with a contrasting belt, worn over a Lurex pleat skirt that falls to the top of Mary Jane shoes worn with lace socks – one outfit out of a hundred in the collection. Symbols (miniature Austen novels, or an embroidered Ouroboros, an Egyptian paradox of a snake eating its own tail) come sandwiched between layers of satsuma-coloured tulle and rainbow-striped Lurex. Imagine a head-scratching Da Vinci spin-off, where the action takes place in Topshop, and you have the picture.
Where most designers attempt to wear their references lightly, Michele geeks out with show notes which attribute quotes with painstaking academic protocol. “The necessity to recognize oneself as a multiple becoming” (G Deleuze); a unity that shelters inside a “parliament of selves” (GH Mead).”
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