Those who complain that they don’t make fashion shows like they used to - Where are the high drama sets? The surreal ideas? The characters? - were finally satisfied today as Alessandro Michele demonstrated both the might of Gucci and the might of his own imagination. The latter can seemingly cross decades, cultures, art movements, subcultures and collage elements from each into something that still has a signature and a sense of consistency. As for hammering home Gucci’s power, there was the giant purple-clad show space, complete with a specially built tank-cum-corridor for models to walk down, which was revealed with great fanfare as the music started by a huge lifting curtain. Seeing the boys and girls through perspex made their looks seem even more precious and rarified - the historical veneer of the clothing was enhanced. In that closed box, they were even more like precious antiques, lucky finds and treasured souvenirs. It was like glancing into a cabinet of curiosities - with each outfit offering a new narrative, a new set of emotions. There was also a whopping 120 looks - a giant collection which can be seen as a flexing of muscle by Michele. More has always been more in this new Gucci world - more decoration, more embellishment, more accessories, more print and more looks proved the span of his aesthetic and the many different characters that can be created under the umbrella of informed maximalism.
I was intrigued by the sixth exit - a relatively minimal look that encompassed jeans, loafers and a camel coat, worn undone. It reminded me of Michele’s first collection for Gucci, presented before his appointment had formally been announced. Back then the unbridled eclecticism that dominates Gucci today hadn’t been unleashed, but there were flavours and hints. Looking back made me consider how far he's come. The androgyny he was known for back then has melted into a different approach to genders, where girls are at times presented as sugary sweet fairytale princesses and at others as tomboys. Equally, boys are sometimes brats from a past age, in fanciful childish rompers and socks, sometimes dapper peacocks and sometimes men in drag as grannies. Michele has moved on from the confines of androgyny and embraced freedom. Indeed, the diversity of the 120 looks, complete with bespoke hair and make-up for each, entrenched the notion of 'something for everyone'. There were so many characters to play, so many garments to buy. Michele himself is a fan - a keen collector and admirer - and this was a collection for fans, inspired by the mavericks, the obsessives and the dreamers. There were elements that suggested the punk rocker, besotted with his music. The nerd. The grungy teen. The clubber. The glamorous power dresser. The eccentric traveller, amassing wares from around the world. Just as this collection spanned decades, mish-mashing histories and traditions, it also spanned people, subtly promoting unity by bringing them all together, 120 individuals, on the runway. This was a utopian world that we, the audience, could only peek into. Notably, this was Gucci's first combined men’s and women’s collection. Other brands have made missteps when trying to unite their two offerings. Here, it worked perfectly, largely because nothing was getting shoe-horned into anything else. In other words, menswear didn’t just serve to compliment womenswear. Every look - indeed every crystal and buttonhole - was considered and planned. Michele’s vision is clear and consistent across everything he touches.
A collection totally devoted to joy and optimism would feel off-key in these times. Michele understood this. He’d brought darkness too - peel away the layers of each look and there was an strange underbelly to this collection. Slogans provided by multimedia artist Coco Capitán - 'Common Sense Is Not That Common' was a favourite - nodded to a climate of fear, concern and anxiety. The naïvety of her scrawled script was charming and chimed well with the pure and earnest nature of Michele’s vision for the house. There’s no cynicism or loftiness on his runway.
A key emblem for the show was a snake eating itself, creating a perfect circle as its tail enters its mouth. This Ouroboros, an ancient Egyptian symbol, decorated show notes. Isn't that a worthy symbol of fashion right now? Moving forward bit by bit by destroying what has come before. And if there's anyone who’s dictating the pace of fashion today - whether by challenging the chilly minimalism that dominated for so long, or by kicking off the return of logomania, or by, alongside Hedi Slimane, growing the vogue for 'fake vintage' - it's Alessandro Michele. This was an epic show. Deliberately epic in the most traditional way a fashion show can be - bombastic, intense, ostentatious, uplifting. It served to show the quantity of ideas Michele has within him - the strength of his conviction, the reach of his dreams.