When was the last time you took an ambling stroll? A walk where you completely handed the decision making of your route over to your senses? This was what Alessandro Michele wanted to do at Gucci for S/S 16. This collection was about seeing, ‘getting lost as opportunity for learning and discovery.’ However, thankfully, Michele wasn’t completely lost, he was on a journey - a journey of the heart.
The key piece in this collection is look four; it is the key to the kingdom. The print of the dress reproduces an etching from the mid 1600s, called Carte de Tendre (The Map of Love). Created by Madame de Rambouillet, a high society literary hostess, this map was first featured in a novel by Madeleine de Scudéry in 1661. This map had set to visually convert the journey of love into a landscape. Every town and village a suitor must pass through in order to get to love, was given a name on the map; such as kindness, faithfulness and constant friendship – with other places one should avoid on the outskirts, such as small cares, complacency and indiscretion.
Mapping out love not only on this dress but also throughout the collection, every single material, silhouette and embellishment for each piece was chosen to represent the different facets of this journey. Mixed up, assorted and divergent references created a psycho-geographic map. 'Indiscretions' arrived via transparent organza bras and blouses, with sweetheart pink and lime frills, whilst 'constant friendship' arrived via parrots sitting on shoulders and ladybirds on ties, and forever pieces, such as pleated skirts, pussybow blouses, and structured granny handbags. The opening look, a Gucci green lace sheath dress was both a timeless friend and immediate declaration of faithfulness. The designer, time and time again, found ways to integrate the ‘Gucci Web’ into his multi-layered world. Such craftsmanship and imagination prevented it from feeling like a bolt on, and instead a legitimate vintage signifer - old Gucci was sold back to us from within the dressing up box. One example would be a crochet jacket, with trompe l'oeil sequin ruffled cuffs, adjoined by the infamous red and green band – in sequins also. There are 70 people on the design team at Gucci, and it shows. The amount of research that had gone into creating these pieces is extraordinary – but it does make one wonder what someone like Edward Meadham and Ben Kirchhoff could have done with a support system this big. The Meadham Kirchhoff brand, though no longer with us, has helped pave the way for a collection like this to exist in mainstream fashion.
It is very important to the designer that all of these pieces go into production, and so they shall. This man has waited 12 years for this moment to arrive. Having worked as assistant to Frida Giannini, he will want every single idea to no longer be a fantasy – but be on the shop floor. Other references within the collection, courtesy of a distantly seventies vibe, saw Pre Raphaelite peacocks and Ziggy metallics placed alongside a theatricality that pointed back to an earlier world of Schiaparelli. Gold leather gloves laden with oversized jewellery, inspired by all kinds of fauna and flora was very Elsa, as was detailing such as embroidered poppies, which were then sculpted into appliqué 3D form, and trompe l’oeil sequin neck ties. The ultimate surrealist, Salvadore Dali, was also here: a bejewelled lip broach on a tie and an encrusted eye worn on a pocket were featured. Let's just say they were both strong ‘appropriations’ of the original designs created by Dali in the thirties. Furthermore, rather than beat up this collection for its use of chinoiserie, I'll take umbrage with the New York Met Costume Institute exhibition, which has no doubt inspired the revived interest in the style - and leave it at that.
A must have component of any suitor's strategy, along the journey of the Carte du Tendre, is the gifting of trinkets - and this collection could certainly be viewed as one big collective trinket or long love letter. It was also a feminist memo. The Carte du Tendre was a map created by a woman - and similarly to the female author who first published the map, this collection too had a 'blue stocking' air of intellectual independence.