Clothes are coded expressions of our identity, when they do their job best. Fashion is a mixture of signs; items of dress can be read to tell us something about culture. When these clothes are presented outside of the context of their original source, the sociologist John Clarke argues that style and subculture evolves. This is of course different to shamelessly plundering from a culture, and credit must be given where due. However when done with the right sensitivity, this approach - which Clarke referred to as bricolage - can be incredibly exciting. It's one Alessandro Michele has mastered at Gucci.
When the designer sent pussybow blouses down a men’s runway in Milan for A/W 15, a metamorphosis began in fashion. And boy did we know it. Gucci's artistic director received rave reviews for his debut, defining an eccentric and androgynous aesthetic, mixing and matching codes of old and new, which would later be referred to by the industry as the 'Gucci Effect'. Following that January 2015 show, new designs like the Dionysus handbag spliced Gucci archive prints and symbols like the bee with Michele's signature ornamentation. The Dionysus was fashion kryptonite both on and offline, with a digital asset created last year for the gaming platform Roblox. Taking aesthetic codes of the heritage brand's past, like the Flora motif created for Princess Grace of Monaco, Michele has updated existing designs such as the Jackie bag, and instilled staple ready-to-wear pieces including the suit with his own idiosyncratic feel.
He has woven a refreshing narrative rooted in his obsession with the past. In campaigns shot by the likes of Gia Coppola and Glen Luchford, Harry Styles has starred in a Northern chippy, Lou Duillon in a modernised Greek myth. When a model walked down a runway holding a replica of their severed head in 2018, we hardly blinked an eye. By this point, it was Alessandro Michele's world. We were just living in it.
Working with The North Face and 'hacking' Balenciaga, Michele has brought new meaning to the now tired luxury collaboration. Michele's sampling has not come without controversy, however, when the bootlegged became the bootlegger in 2017. Sampling is an approach popularised by hip hop culture, and the internet was quick to pick up on Gucci's uncredited take on Harlem designer Dapper Dan's 1988 Louis Vuitton jacket. Following the Cruise 2018 controversy, Michele collaborated with Dan on a collection, and has put Gucci Mane as the face of a campaign, and made his Gucci army more genuinely reflective of the 'street' he so often references as his main inspiration. This month, A$AP Rocky and Rihanna sat front row as Gucci’s artistic director returned to show in Milan after two years away. Having presented digital live streams (like most due to the pandemic) and a film festival, plus a recent showstopper parade on Hollywood Boulevard, the latest Italian occasion unveiled an unexpected collaboration with Adidas, taking Michele's Gucci sampling story a step further.
Wearing my own Adidas tracksuit, (a winning collaboration by the menswear designer Wales Bonner), I did a double take whilst seated at the Gucci Exquisite show. As look 2 flashed past me under the aggressive strobe lights, I spotted the signature Adidas three stripes. First originating to hold together the construction of the sportswear brand's shoes, before becoming a defining feature of jackets and trackpants, they had now made their way onto the sides of a burnt orange leather Gucci boot. In quick ascendance, stripes lined the arms and legs of an Yves Klein blue cord suit, then cream, ice blue and vibrant green iterations. The suit in itself is an important motif to Gucci, from Tom Ford's red velvet A/W 96 number which Michele re-imagined last year, to the loose-fitting numbers Michele paired with thin ribbon ties at his debut, echoed in look 29 of the new collection. Combining the looseness of sportswear with the rigour of tailoring underpinned this season's approach.
‘Men have opened the dialogue with womenswear’, the designer told press after the show, referring to that A/W 15 collection where he used suiting to begin his dialogue. So, this season, he returned to the space of a men’s collection to bend the rules again. He turned to Adidas, which he says he has always seen an ‘elegance’ in. These suits should be easily interchangeable between any bodies, swapping ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ elements as simple as a man carrying a woman’s handbag, Michele argued. He wanted to generate multiple images and viewpoints; the only possible fashion for Michele is 'partly deformed'. On closer inspection, the Adidas trefoil logo sat on breast pockets and alongside the interlocking G motif on the back of shoe heels. Adidas Gazelles finished off other looks, while a white and navy crochet balaclava was a standout example of the trend which took over runways this season. Both Adidas and Gucci's logos are cultural signs with social connotations, and mixing and matching them blurs the lines of social and class divides (albeit there will be a hefty price tag), with street's influence on the street coming full circle.
’In the street we see a kaleidoscope of things’, the designer told press. It might not be JD Sports prices, but this season Michele put forward one of the most honest interpretations on the hybrid direction fashion is taking. As he told us after the show, ‘Gucci is a never-ending experiment’.