You probably know that 43 year old Alessandro Michele was appointed Creative Director of Gucci in 2015. In a flash, the Gucci ads we saw in magazines went from a study in beige elegance to being fantastically otherworldly. The previous creative director Frida Giannini (and Tom Ford before her) had kept the brand slick and polished, but Michele turned everything upside down. He completely redefined the brand and turned it into something delirious. In his own words, he “destroyed everything”. It was a brave move on the part of Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri to put the unknown Michele into this very high profile role. The risk paid off nicely, because Kering (the company that owns Saint Laurent, Gucci, Bottega Veneta, and Balenciaga, among other luxury brands) saw Gucci’s revenue rise by 16% in 2015. No one is more surprised than Michele himself. He figured he’d do one collection and immediately be fired, but would at least have fun doing it. He is refreshingly unmotivated by success or money, and stays far from the business side of Gucci, saying, “I prefer to play, like a kid.” Aside from the business, the worst part of his job is the visibility and fame that come with it. He’s not interested in creating products to sell so much as ideas, beauty, and a new “language of expression.” Yes, I fully appreciate how ridiculous and pretentious that sounds, but after hearing him interviewed by British Vogue editor Alexandra Schulman at the Vogue Festival in London a few weeks ago, I can’t stop thinking about what he said. I’m inspired. I’ll try to make sense of the pages and pages of notes I took during his fascinating interview.
When he came out on stage, the hall erupted into loud cheering and applause… basically, a standing ovation just for showing up! As you can see, he wore jeans, a white tee shirt, striped sports socks, the buckled men’s Mary Janes he designed, a satin bomber jacket, and rings on every finger.
He looks like he could be the leader of a cult… or at least a band of deeply stylish, satin-and-brocade-wearing gypsies. He has the quiet, serene presence reminiscent of a guru; the fashion world has embraced him with with a religious devotion that seems appropriate to his demeanour. I could sense how genuine he is. He’s left-field. He’s out there. He’s weird. Since he’s not interested in commercialism (“no one needs more products”) it is ironic that he has a job creating insanely covetable things (I mean, that Dionysis bag, scream!). His wants to make things that feel close to your soul, that make you feel happy, that you will enjoy for years and years, not just for one season. His first collections and his most recent one all have a similar distinct aesthetic; you could pick something from his Spring 2015 collection and it would fit right in with Resort 2017 because nearly all of it looks vintage. He resists pressure to perform or please anyone, and refuses to alter any design that he loves into something he considers ugly simply to satisfy market expectations. Whether his very specific style eventually gets old (one trick pony syndrome) or whether he continues to find new ideas to infuse his work (like the late Alexandre McQueen managed to) remains to be seen, but right now, he and his work are seriously hot property.
During the interview, the word that he used so many times (like a mantra) that I completely lost count was “beauty.” Alessandro is a man who is quite literally obsessed with beauty. He said his personal living space is absolutely heaving with museum-like collections of objects he considers beautiful… shoes that do not fit him but he buys just to look at (I totally get that!), scraps of fabric, bits of a rug, paintings, jewels, miniatures, anything that inspires him. He’s intoxicated with the pursuit of acquiring and creating beauty; it is a madness, a disappearance down a rabbit hole into another world. You get a peek at this world if you follow him on Instagram. I love to imagine how perhaps this influence and this influence eventually became this on the runway:
His idea of beauty is not traditional beauty. For him, beauty is “a complicated language” that confuses the mind. Beauty is baroque, embellished, discordant, confusing, and a little dangerous. He said, “If you fall in love with a beautiful man, it’s not easy. It’s easier to be with an ugly man. There is a danger to beauty. I am not afraid of danger.” With Michele, there is always a density of ideas; you get the feeling that one dress or one coat can barely contain all of what he wants it to say, so he keeps layering until he can’t put anything more on it. His designs are ugly but beautiful, and this dissonance and confusion is exactly the language of modern beauty Alessandro has created for Gucci. “I want to be confused by what I am looking at,” he says. You have to study and unpick his designs to understand them. He loves androgyny and ambiguity; he finds beauty in “the in-between.” He likes men in floral suits or coats and women in tough shoes, as the next two photos show.
a 1970’s archival print silk skirt with chunky Union Jack loafers
There are many looks on the runway that it takes a moment to figure out of it is part of menswear or womenswear, because the models and the clothes could be either. He has even combined the menswear and womenswear shows into one to emphasise the androgyny.
History and heritage are also big influences on Alessandro. Gucci is based in Florence where the Renaissance informs the entire city, Gucci, and Alessandro Michele’s work; it is inescapable. He’s always had a self-confessed obsession with English style, so you can see strands of aristocratic eccentricity, Vivienne-Westwood-style punk, Victorian, and Tudor influences in his designs. There are also nods to Gucci and its history of equestrian motifs, as well as 1970s Gucci archival prints which are resurrected and given a new context.
Oh, and the animals! According to Alessandro his work is heavily influenced by (almost an homage to) his nature-loving father, who he describes as a sort of shaman and the happiest man he’s ever known. Clothes and accessories are adorned in tigers, snakes, bees (2017), cats, dogs, owls, leopards, raccoons, and every description of bird (2016) and flower. I feel instant kinship with anyone who shares my insane love of animal beauty; I’d take every item he makes with an animal on it.
Sequins and goldfish
Ants, butterflies, snakes, beetles, and butterflies juxtaposed with girly pink
Typical Michele, 70s aristocratic-bohemian-geek-chic with studded shoes, metallics, stripes, flowers, insects, and snakes
Whether you speak his madcap fashion language and love him, or whether you loathe his more-is-more aesthetic, Alessandro Michele’s influence is everywhere (blame him for the ubiquitous satin bomber jackets) and will be for some time. Do I think most of us should wear a head out to dinner or a party in a top to toe Gucci runway look? No. Do I think that we’ll be wearing more wild embellished jackets and shoes in a season or two? Yes. (In fact, I am busy DIY’ing two jackets at the moment, which I’ll show you in future posts). He inspires me to be a little more reckless in my fashion choices, and to pepper my style with some of his adventuresome and highly individualistic flavour.
Alessandro is fashion catnip, and if you are a cat, you are going to go absolutely crazy over his work. If you are not a cat, then you will wonder what all the fuss is about.
Here are a few more visual treats so you can decide if you are a cat or not! What do you think? Are you a cat?
One version of the Dionysys bag, and the glasses seen on many a young blogger now
More is more, less is a bore. Note the bee belt (if you can find it!)
One of the few looks I’d happily wear head to toe
Ok, also this one
AND this one!
Stripes and sequins, two of my favourite things
Sequinned king snake evening dress
Exquisite gown, no doubt influenced by his personal collection of Chinoiserie
All images courtesy of Vogue.com