Change is in the air at Gucci.
With Alessandro Michele, the new creative director who made his debut women’s wear presentation at the start of Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday, there is little doubt that the changes will be big. Even before he officially was in the job, Michele showed a men’s collection in January that veered in a far more retro romantic, philosophical direction than was seen in the house’s recent history, with androgynous poet blouses and suits that featured vintage cuts and a 1970s rust-colored palette. As for his women’s show, Michele went so far as to redesign Gucci’s entire runway theater by putting the audience on risers at the center of the room and the models walking around its perimeter. Gucci’s slick set image was replaced by something less refined, with the walls covered in tiles and the floor rendered as a mesh grid.
And his designs were a break not only from Gucci traditions, but also from the old rules of Milan fashion, offering a flash of excitement and energy that has long been missing in the city (pictured, above). With the exception of a few shows here, like Prada, and sometimes Jil Sander, most designers stick to a script that works, placing emphasis on words like “heritage” and “luxury.” But those words are used so often as to have become meaningless, something the designer seemed to recognize in making a case for his point of view.
“There is no room for consolatory nostalgia,” noted a mission statement that was left on the seats at the show, under the cryptic headline, “The Contemporary is the Untimely.”
Michele, who was the head accessories designer under Gucci’s previous creative director, Frida Giannini, and largely an unknown quantity when he was promoted to the role, made an immediate impression, most obviously by turning away from the image of Gucci as a label that's all about sex appeal. That’s how it was defined in the 1990s by Tom Ford, who created an image that has stuck ever since.
Michele’s look could be described as the opposite. Even though many looks were so sheer as to expose the models’ breasts, the casting of feminine men and boyish women, wearing berets and studious glasses, was so extreme in his show as to neuter the subjects. The designs had an anti-luxury appeal as well, washed silk dresses with tiers of ruffles that looked deliberately well-worn, or floral-print suits with odd creases and wrinkles that made them look as if they had been packed away in boxes for decades. There were also suits with pajama piping and fur coats that looked vintage, one with gorgeous embroidered birds on the back, another that looked as if it had been ripped from a Wes Anderson film, for the costume of Margot Tenenbaum (pictured, below).
From a fashion editor’s perspective, it was a moment that provided an exciting proposition for an audience that has been inundated with luxury fashion and its customary marketing labels. These looked like clothes for real characters, unique and individual. Retailers and customers may differ, for the designs are not conventionally beautiful, but they will certainly challenge anyone to think.