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A Gucci Renaissance

Posted by Meghan
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Gucci S/S 2016. Photos: vogue.com

 

“Those who are truly contemporary are those who neither perfectly coincide with their time nor adapt to its demands. In this sense, they are never at home in the present moment. But precisely through this disconnection and this anachronism they are more capable than others of perceiving and grasping their own time. Contemporariness, then, is that relationship with time that adheres to it through a disconnection.” — Giorgio Agamben, Italian philosopher

“Old things make me feel very contemporary,” said Gucci’s newly appointed creative director Alessandro Michele in a recent profile in the New York Times. Not so unsurprising when you consider the above quote by philosopher Giorgio Agamben which Michele selected for his Fall/Winter 2015 womenswear press kit. Michele’s statement is a total oxymoron—the very idea of something being old is completely at odds with newness. And yet, unsurprisingly, it feels right. Not just for me, who has been giddy over the new Gucci direction since his debut menswear collection this January, but the whole fashion industry is beside itself with excitement over Alessandro’s vision. It began with his Fall/Winter 2015 menswear collection, and, like a slow march, through the Fall/Winter and Cruise womenswear collections, Alessandro arrived at his recent Spring/Summer 2016 collection as if it were a proclamation of intent, a thesis of his re-imagination of a nearly century’s old brand. The result, a meditation on the meaning and place of old in the new that goes beyond the sense of post-modern kitsch that has been lingering in fashion since the 90s. Fashion is perennially searching for the “now,” waiting with baited breath for something to arrive and speak to us as we are in any given moment. It's a bold assertion of Michele to align his vision with the words of Giorgio Agamben, but I’ll be damned if he wasn’t on the mark.

Of the handful of profiles available on Michele for research, nearly all of them mention a few key things. One—his commitment to individuality, to clothing which is inspired by personal experience, to the notion of a garment, a shoe, an accessory taking on the life of its wearer like a relic. Two—that he wears rings (a lot of them) on nearly every finger, with particular preference for the Georgian and Victorian variety. Three—that despite the intensity of the current cycle of fashion, despite the fact that he had exactly five days to execute his first menswear show, Alessandro has never been anything but a vision of serene calm.

The fabled five days that it took Michele to create the collection has everyone transfixed, but from what I’ve read it sounds as if he had been ready for his debut all along. Before 2015, he spent the bulk of his career working alongside his near aesthetic opposite, former creative director Frida Giannini, having navigated the business together initially at Fendi then later to Gucci. Film scholar David Thompson said that taste is made up of a thousand distastes, and for the poetic, romantic Michele to have spent the last nine years actualizing Frida’s sleek, polished direction for Gucci, is there any wonder he already had a bolt in the chamber for his debut? “Fashion doesn't need time, it needs a vision,” says Michele in Love magazine’s most recent issue. And what a vision indeed! However excited I was about the initial new Gucci collections, the Spring/Summer 2016 show was a landmark moment for the house both for its technical achievement and its intellectual scope. To the point—the collection engaged itself in a conversation with vintage about vintage, a meditation on the convergence of past and present in defining modernity. The references to Italian fashion history were as opaque as can be—the trompe l’oeil details were pure Roberta di Camerino, the bookish sexiness and ease a page out of Alberto Albini's book, the embroidered insect and snake details an homage to Elsa Schiaparelli. This collection was not, however, just a distillation of Italy’s greatest fashion hits. The cartographical print found on one of the opening dresses was a silkscreening of the Carte de Tendre found in the beginning of Madeleine de Scudéry’s 17th century novel, Clélie. It served as an emotional foundation for the entire collection in creating “a map of tenderness, a moving topography of desire.” You get the sense of Michele’s fondness for reliquary items through these details, suffusing old world romantic sentiment—one of sonnets, locks of hair, Georgian rings, maps of tenderness—into a modern garment that experiences intimate contact with its wearer each time its worn. He’s creating a new kind of intimacy with the new through intercourse with the old.

Recognizing heritage has permeated the new Gucci creatively and fiscally (I could wax poetic for days about the clothes but fashion will never not be about money). New Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri moved in just before Michele when Frida Giannini and her CEO husband Patrizio Di Marco were making their exit. Bizzarri spoke at length recently with Business of Fashion about the process of selecting the new creative director. His decision to hire an unknown employee from the inside is very at odds with the current trend for heritage brands to co-opt big name designers for buzz (as I'm writing this it has been announced that Vêtements founder Demna Gvasalia has been poached as creative director for Balenciaga). The long and the short of it is these old brands are dying and their names alone simply aren’t producing the numbers they once did. But Bizzarri turned inward, to a person who’s name meant almost nothing to anyone a few months ago but who knew the company, who understood not only the fundamentals of the Gucci brand but someone who came ready-made as creative director with the knowledge of navigating the company’s huge infrastructure. Heritage is integral from the top down at the new Gucci.

This move of Michele’s towards a look derived from the streets has reminded me a lot of the moves Hedi Slimane made at Saint Laurent. Slimane’s debut was seen as the end of the earth for a large chunk of myopic fashion people. Less of a fuss was made about Michele but some were still carping. “Is this even fashion?” they said. “I could get this at Goodwill,” they said. This is the same criticism that was waged at Slimane but it holds up practically no weight when you see, touch, slip into these clothes. Of course it looks like something we’ve all seen before, a point Alexander Fury touched on for The Independent but the reality is it just isn’t. I don’t need to belabor the every-thing-that-can-be-done-has-already-been- done point but its true, all that’s left is to re purpose whats been done for our time now. So if Alessandro’s Gucci looks pedestrian in some way it’s because its meant to. Particular styles of clothing are no longer an indication of status as in aristocratic times, or even the times of the taste making jet-set. Craftsmanship, which is really just a synonym for time, is the only luxury remaining, and at Gucci, as at Saint Laurent, it is the craft which endures.

This is particularly significant for us here at Shrimpton Couture, a point my boss Cherie, the high priestess of vintage, pointed out to me. What this recent Spring/Summer collection offered was a reintroduction of old school techniques and a level of detail which far exceeded his previous collections in scope and depth. The extensive embroidery, the heavy bead work on fine mesh and silk, the uniqueness of each original textile—not a single pattern repeated—and an overall level of embellishment that hours of pouring over detail shots could not capture. Gucci’s Spring/ Summer 2016 collection introduced a conversation about legacy, history, and heritage as it exists in past, present, and future forms. It’s all a bit meta but I’m ok with it. It’s brilliant, and, most importantly, people want to wear it. Alessandro Michele, barely past the probationary period of his post, maneuvers with the thrust of a multibillion dollar heritage brand behind him and the soft-spoken confidence of hundreds of years of European culture distilled into his monumental vision. A Renaissance man indeed.

Carte de Tendre from Madeleine de Scudéry's 1654-61 novel Clélie.

 

Gucci S/S 2016. Photos: vogue.com

 

(L-R) Lobster dress by Schaiparelli with Salvador Dali, 1938  /  Schiaparelli jacket, blouse, and necklace with bug details, fall 1938  /  Roberta di Camerino trompe l'oeil sweater dress from American Home Crafts Magazine, 1975  /  Roberta di Camerino trompe l'oeil maxi dress circa 1970.

 

Gucci S/S 2016. Photos: vogue.com

 

Gucci S/S 2016. Photos: vogue.com

 

Gucci S/S 2016. Photos: vogue.com

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