I like to play a little board game to measure the influence of a fashion designer: When you say a brand name, what does a self-proclaimed fashion agnostic see in his mind’s eye? For example: I once heard a totally outmoded person joke in an office elevator in Midtown that their compression boot looked like it was designed by Balenciaga. My least favorite streetwear friends know that quotation marks belong to Virgil Abloh. And Alessandro Michele has so successfully spread his work at Gucci through his insane band of musicians, actors, academics, playwrights and activists that when you say “Gucci” any vague inkling will conjure up that vintage shop hunter, the big glasses, Magpie look.
Or a man in a dress since last week. The rule of thumb is: as soon as you can recognize a look, it’s a thing of the past. But the kerfuffle about Harry Styles wearing a Gucci dress on the cover of Vogue – with right-wing commentators pointing out that it threatened masculinity – suggested that Michelle’s gender revolution is as relevant and even urgent as ever. It is possible that the Gucci revolution is just beginning.
Michele doesn’t do anything in an orthodox way. Increasingly, this is his calling card, even if his clothes seem to retain an amazing consistency – that everyone knows it’s Gucci quality. So is his recent decision to ditch the usual fashion show model and ingeniously replace it with GucciFest, a seven-day digital film festival directed by Michele and Gus Van Sant that was launched last week with short films by emerging designers . For my money, something like GucciFest is the most exciting way for a big fashion house: create narrative content where the clothes help tell the story. (The Krone showed us how successful that can be!) This also applies when the films themselves have fallen a little flat. Michelle’s silhouettes and his ingenious talent for casting would have come together better if they had written freer, looser, and just weird, although aspiration is an admirable feature of Gucci.
More interesting, I think, is how Gucci’s clothes evolved, although the mood apparently didn’t. GucciFest clothing was the most minimalist collection the designer has made since its debut in 2015. It’s easy to forget how we now live in the confusingly large time soup that Alessandro Michele came to Gucci almost six years ago. He has been the creative director at Gucci since Donald Trump became president. He survived Clare Waight Keller in Givenchy and Raf Simons in Calvin Klein. During the time when Michele revolutionized men’s fashion and stimulated the desire for archive fashion, Hedi Slimane withdrew from fashion and became a photographer and had a comeback. Virgil Abloh has gone from cult screen printing on old rugby pieces to a creative director at Louis Vuitton. Demna Gvasalia redefined luxury at Vetements and then at Balenciaga. Supreme, which was just becoming mainstream when Michele took the reins, has now been sold to a conglomerate for $ 2 billion. All along, Michele presented consistent offerings of his joyful, inclusive vision, adding a sense of permanence to an aesthetic that was so (wonderfully) trendy in 2015.