Late Monday night in a private walled garden of Florence, a few hours after an extravagantly staged Gucci runway show had astounded its guests with access to monuments that even Dan Brown couldn't get, Beth Ditto took the stage beneath pine and palm trees that were flooded with unnatural violet light. Ditto is, of course, the hard-edged-and-hilarious punk artist whose music is routinely categorized as indie or alternative, not mainstream or luxury as might traditionally befit a mega brand like Gucci.
Ditto was in her element, calling out to Elton John in the audience, and to the designer Alessandro Michele, who brought her here. She's available for birthday parties, by the way, and she's cheap, she said. All she asks is for you to dress her in designer finery, and thus acknowledge and respect her, a nonconformist artist, just like Michele did.
"Does your grandmother sew?" Ditto asked. "I'd love to come over."The thought occurred, as the stars became visible in the Italian night sky, that Gucci has become the black hole of fashion, absorbing all points of light around it, all the sequins, the embroideries, the glitter, the fringe, the sizzle, and reflecting all back upon the world. This is my theory, anyway, as to why so many people of different walks of life, from the elite fashionistas to the eccentric artistes to, well frankly, to the nerds, the freaks, and the geeks among us all, have been attracted to Michele's vision of Gucci, which is welcoming, tempting, even addictive. In his mismatched, awkwardly proportioned silhouettes, in designs that emulate thrift-store finds, and in his embrace of the outsider, Michele has created an entirely new business model for luxury that is nowhere better on display than during the bizarre new season of cruise collections.
Here in Florence, during the height of tourist season, when tickets to see the David are sold out for days in advance and the Duomo is overrun with the selfie-seeking masses, hundreds of editors from around the world had gathered for the ultimate FOMO event in Michele's latest show. Some came to Italy for less than 24 hours. Most wore Gucci, creating a surreal display at the start of the evening, at a reception within the Botticelli-filled galleries of the Uffizi museum, of Donald Duck embroidered sweaters, glittering knife-pleated skirts, floral printed fluffy dresses, poet blouses, oversize glasses, and general pageantry of the sort one used to describe as peacocking.
By the time most of the guests had made their way across the Arno to the opulent salons of the Pitti Palace, by way of the hoi-polloi-prohibited Vasari Corridor hidden above the Ponte Vecchio, it hardly seemed strange to discover Donald Glover wearing a wide-brimmed Gucci hat, white shorts and bucks with the heels crushed, or Dakota Johnson in a backless dress, or Jared Leto in a pink velvet topcoat, lemon yellow trousers, and a frilly blow top covered in embroidered bees (also, silver high tops).
To get to the point of the collection, this one was as wild, as diverse, as all-encompassing as Michele's previous efforts, with so many ideas for both men and woman and those in-between that anyone watching was bound to be both overwhelmed and considerably impressed.
Let's start with the fun stuff: rugby sweaters and oversize quilted jackets, one printed with intertwined snakes and florals that was awesome, a hot pink teddy-bear sweater with a purposely misspelled "Guccy" logo, funny fancy fanny packs, a yellow buffalo plaid puffer with back cat decal—oh, phew, I could go on and on.
But rather, what was different about this collection was that Michele also began to explore bigger ideas in fashion, and by that, I mean that he was open to the influence of his peers. There were Vetements-like proportions in some of the oversize pieces, and yet, they had Michele's Gucci-centric spin, as they, too, were absorbed into his orbit.
And if anyone was in doubt as to his all-consuming message, Michele made himself clear on T-shirts that boldly proclaimed: "Guccify yourself."