Alessandro Michele has been called fashion’s Renaissance man, master stylist, visual poet, costume creator—anything but a designer—but shrugs off any definition with cool nonchalance because there are no such boxes in his world. How does one even put a name to his trippy-hippy-neo-vintagey aesthetic that has sparked up the runways since he took on the creative directorship of Gucci in January 2015? In just four seasons, Michele has become more and more inventive, working in a refreshingly experimental way to produce visually delightful fashion that women and men dare to wear, magazines want to photograph, and the industry raves about. For Gucci cruise 2017, he took us on what he calls “a deeply archaeological” journey through ’80s London by showing his men’s and women’s collections at Westminster Abbey, crafting a beautifully eclectic storyboard of some 97 looks that merged British style subcultures—Victorian Punks, Gothic Scots, and The Queen, off-duty—and pushed his artistic intelligence even further to the fore.
We meet in his interview suite at The Savoy, the morning after the show. For all the 600 international guests, Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri and celebrities in attendance, 7,700 Insta-posts, the big after-party at an 18th-century mansion in Mayfair where Annie Lennox performed, there is absolutely no fanfare today. His PR director leads us to a room where the Roman-born bohemian sits in a grand English high back. He’s wearing the exact same clothes today as he did at the show: Green hoodie emblazoned with his famous “Blind For Love” motto, jeans, studded Mary Janes from his new collection, and chunky antique rings worn signature-like on almost all fingers. “I’m still in the middle of the tornado,” he laughs when asked about his post-show feelings, flicking back his long black hair. “I’m still working… ”
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It has been quite an endless whirlwind for Michele since he was swept up from the backrooms of Gucci (where he worked for 13 years; seven years before at Fendi) and placed at fashion’s forefront. But how quickly he buckled down, and got his message across in one fell swoop with the fall/winter ’15 menswear collection of only 36 looks, where beautiful boys rocked brocade jackets, lace tunics, and silk scarf-tied shirts. As for the Gucci girl, he completely transformed her from the globetrotting glamazon envisioned by his predecessor, Frida Giannini, to the beautiful geek dressed in rainbow-shaded chiffon, felt beret, and oversized square glasses. With that, accelerating the brand’s plummeting sales and popularity into one of the most successful turnaround stories of the decade (much like Tom Ford in the ’90s), now worth US$12 billion in brand value. It’s no wonder that his phenomenon, which the industry calls “The Alessandro Effect,” and his almost-biblical appearance and charming prose-speak, has the industry likening him to some sort of fashion messiah.
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There are no miracles, though. Michele’s creative intellect is what has energised fashion again, shifting it away from the prototype normcore style to something more exotic. Almost overnight, he created our feverish desire for embroidered tigers, sequinned snakes, floral brocades, pop-shade satin, appliquéd denim, pleated metallic silk; pearls and serpents on pastel leather sandals; those so-fashion-it-hurts fur-lined slides; silk turbans, net veils, and felt fedoras; Dionysus bags embroidered with lips, bees, and lightning bolts… Each as unique and “statement” as the next and all worn together in layers upon layers to create a new fashion fairy-tale romance.
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The next chapter unfolded with the Gucci cruise 2017 collection, which took all of these hallmarks of the brand on a nostalgic storybook adventure (think Enid Blyton meets Wes Anderson) through the hallowed halls of Westminster Abbey. To the haunting score of “Scarborough Fair” sung by chamber choir Schola Cantorum, out came the leopard print coats worn with paint-splattered jeans, dolly dresses with frill-and-ribbon bibs, British tartan as a Victorian-esque ballgown or kilted up with a Union Jack sweater, all flavoured with classic English roses on the iconic Sylvie bag, rainbow-stacked platform creepers, flip-up oversized glasses, and more. It was some sort of magic-realism moment, the work of a genius mind whose underlying vision is to liberate fashion with a certain agelessness, aesthetic ambiguity, and electric vitality. “It’s for everyone,” says Michele. “There should be no rules. The soul of the brand is about happiness.”
Your cruise collection was magical; from the first collection, it’s just been evolving, you are not changing everything every season. Is that a strategy?
The collection reflects my person, the way I live and what I am, so it’s pretty difficult to change yourself (laughs). Fashion is not an invention that you try to create from a sheet of paper; it’s something that’s alive and also lives inside of you. That’s why the collection is so personal.
It’s almost like you have a relationship with your clothes. How do you feel after the season is over?
It’s actually beautiful when you finish, when you see everything outside the catwalk. Every time I show a collection, I am not scared of what people will think; it’s more about the feeling that I want you to share with me. And every time is a first time for me. I always say it’s like being in love.
Was Westminster Abbey your first choice of location to show the collection?
We made a list of different places, there was more than one place—the Queen said no (laughs)—but I chose Westminster Abbey. I was really surprised when I received the e-mail that said, “You can show at Westminster.” I thought it was a joke.
What cultural references from London did you bring to your cruise collection?
It’s the story of my archaeological references. Not “archaeological” because they are old, but because they come from very deep within me. London has fascinated me from when I first came here as an 18-year-old… The mix of everything, the different street lives. The clubbing life was huge and all about new punk and old punk. The new generation was looking for a new kind of freedom and with that came a new aesthetic. But all around them was the old London of Victorian and Georgian buildings. That inspired the collection… The different kind of aesthetics that belong to the city like the flowers, the gardening, the outdoor attitude. It’s beautiful how an English person always keeps their culture in their soul.
What about the vintage Gucci logo t-shirts; is that your little bit of irony?
Yes, there are a lot of hidden iconic pieces everywhere in the world that everybody is trying to buy, including me. I bought a lot of things in Japan, because they really sell a lot of crazy pop and rock pieces that come from Europe. I’m a collector of these pieces and love how they play in a crazy way with the old and new. So, I wanted to put them into the Gucci shops, because they belong to our culture. Sometimes, when I’m in New York and I see young guys with this kind of ’70s t-shirts with the Gucci logo, I think that it is more Gucci than the real Gucci (laughs). I don’t want to be serious with the icon, because the family was not really serious. They were having fun with those kind of languages, so it’s my way to work.
Do you get the opportunity to see how consumers interact with the brand?
When I was in LA, I met this really, really old lady, probably 82 or 83. She was one of the best friends of Elton John and she was in a red evening dress with yellow lace, completely embroidered with the tiger and strawberry. She looked absolutely fabulous, so I was really happy because my idea of fashion is to include people, not to reject them. Fashion is like a beautiful language that shows the way you feel. It doesn’t care about your age; it’s for everybody. If you create a collection with rules, it’s an odd way to show fashion.
Your collection allows this freedom to wear and style it as you like.
It’s beautiful. When I go outside, I can recognise that some people are very inspired and they can play a little bit more, because with a big brand like Gucci, you can do it.
Like the dandies and the Romantics?
Yes, the dandies—the most elegant men in history and it’s not about sexual orientation, but the idea of your beauty. The idea of genderlessness is something that does not only belong to European culture. A few months ago, I went to the archive of Boucheron in Paris to see the beautiful treasures. The biggest and most unbelievable jewels all belonged to Indian kings. No man or woman can imagine how the Maharajas could put together the most eccentric jewels.
And what about love? Being “blind for love” is almost a new motto for Gucci.
I hope this will be something that inspires not just Gucci fans, but people in general. The idea that you lose yourself in the beauty and not with drugs. Beauty means that you feel good and you feel blind to be good and be in touch with beauty; it’s something that makes you feel stronger.
Is it more important to be chic or to have good taste?
Honestly, I don’t think good taste exists—only taste. Chic means you have personality. If you are personal, that’s good. To have good taste, who can say who has good taste?
- By Natasha Kraal
- Photographed by Mari Sarai
- Styled by Kenneth Goh
- Models: Lily Nova/IMG, George Dickinson/Premier
Makeup: Naoko Scintu/The Wall Group using M.A.C
Hair: Federico Ghezzi/W Management
Manicure: Pebbles Aikens
Production: Rosco Production
Photo assistants: Lee Whittaker, Jack Symes, Ai Nakai
Styling assistants: Emily Attrill, Kya