Thirty looks into the exactly one hundred and seven look long Gucci show, a jumper furnished with the phrase ‘Never Marry a Mitford’ appeared. It was a nod to the recent exhibition House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth, held at the rambling estate in England and sponsored by Gucci. The 11th Duke of Devonshire had a taste for making comedy jumpers and this one, which Gucci replicated, nodded to his wife, the youngest of the Mitford sisters. It was a sweet shout-out and highlights how Alessandro Michele never leaves anything behind - he collects references along the way, taking his collaborators along with him on the ride. The exhibition has clearly stuck in Michele’s mind - probably partly for the house’s amazing archive of art, couture and various curiosities but also because of an immersive insight into the eccentricities of the upper classes. There’s none madder than the British elite and they’re very on brand for Gucci - all mixed up clothing (some riches, some rags), clashing prints, sparkling heirlooms, hand-me-downs and grandma’s fur, or in this case Diane Arbus’ fur coat (note how it was combined with that messy hair and those ballet pumps). Some of the models wore accessories that looked like restraints or strange medical devices like neck braces with their new season finery. It added to the mood of madness. Of wilful insanity. The message - Michele will go his own way. He is the black sheep of luxury fashion.
The Arbus reference was noted on the Instagram account @diet_prada, which calls out high fashion brands for copying the work of others (spoiler: a quick sweep provides the summary that everyone borrows unashamedly from Nicolas Ghesquière’s era at Balenciaga). The account has been particularly vicious about Gucci in the past, calling out the brand’s cruise show for ripping off Divine and Dapper Dan. Fast forward to now and Michele’s formalised a collaboration with the latter and recruited @diet_prada to take over the Gucci Instagram Stories during the show. Keep your enemies close? It was an ingenious hook-up, partly because it was funny - and Gucci do wit without it ever feeling awkward - and partly because Michele is without doubt a reference-driven designer, he pulls from history and art history, from pop culture and high fashion culture. He is not ashamed of this - thus the @diet_prada hook-up served to hammer his ideas and obsessions home. The account also noted nods by Michele to SEGA (see that retro font on bags and other accessories) and Elton John (note the blue, red and white checked blazer, a copy of one designed by Bob Mackie and worn by the singer). John is a friend of Michele’s. He read the introduction when Michele was named 'Designer of the Year' at last year’s GQ Men of the Year Awards, declaring that he was 'someone who's actually got some talent in fashion.' Not pulling his punches, he said, 'When Tom Ford left Gucci it all went very pear-shaped, a bit like myself. You could go in there and fire a cannon through Gucci because the clothes were so f***ing awful…Thanks to Michele injecting energy, colour and passion into the house,' he added, 'now you have to fight your way into Gucci. Fashion needs it because it's as dull as f***ing dishwater at the moment.' Ouch. But he has a point. There was plenty of passion in today’s show, and plenty on offer to cater to the magpie-esque sensibilities of Gucci’s clients.
The show notes seemed less chirpy. They were more of a battle cry than the usual dreamy, dense philosophical texts we’ve become accustomed to. They spoke of 'the act of creation as an act of resistance.' They talked of 'revolt' and an 'inalienable right to difference.' I read it as Michele’s own personal resistance against the spinning wheel of fashion - his refusal to bow to critics who argue that Gucci looks the same each season. His passion for pushing on with something he believes in. He was staking a claim not only for resistance, but for continuation. It can be easy to roll ones eyes when big corporations use words like 'revolt' or 'resistance'. It can feel like they are commodifying the language of protest or making empty talk about being radical while selling people things they don’t need. But really it's those in positions of power who have the ability to make the biggest political statements - they are privileged in their audience, their reach and their authority. In that sense Michele must be applauded, not only for his forward-thinking collaborative approach, but for bucking the stuffy trends we’ve become so accustomed to accepting amongst luxury houses. He celebrates love, awkwardness, eccentricity and the beauty of those of all eras and genders. He’s stripped away the regressive binary sensuality that defined Gucci and presented something far richer, far more complex.
This collection was tinged with sadness. The pounding repetitive music had a dystopian feel as the models stomped by, frowning, at the speed of light. The weeping eye from the record cover of Elton John’s single Levon appeared on some bags. A single tear also decorated sunglasses. But Michele has no reason for tears - the party's not over yet.