The fashion crowd may be jaded, accustomed to beautiful show locations around the world, but Alessandro Michele and his team outdid themselves in staging the Gucci Cosmogonie show here Monday evening, leaving guests marveling at the site of the 13th-century Castel del Monte in Italy lit up with images of antique constellation maps and shooting stars.
It was breathtaking.
A full moon shone on the Apulian castle perched on a hill, following a lunar eclipse a day earlier, and the image of a constellation was printed on the invitation, with a note that a star has been adopted in each guest’s name, so an overall astronomy theme wasn’t a wild guess. However, there were several layers to Michele’s latest project and the choice of the date was a “pure coincidence,” said the designer ahead of the show.
Yes, there were cascades of sequins embroidered on a few medieval gowns and on cool baggy denim jeans — “I like to make clothes that shine,” he admitted — but Michele wanted the massive collection — which had 101 exits — and the show to ring contemporary, not retro. His all-leather trenchcoat and thigh-high boots could appeal to the hot Maneskin band sitting in the front row, which performed at the after party, and his sequined tailored pantsuit to Elle Fanning or Dakota Johnson, who sat in the front row.
The soundtrack mixed music with the recording of the first moon landing, lest anyone forget that Michele may be a romantic but traveling in space is as current as can be. And he contended the event was planned as a late spring rave, not a stuffy runway show.
The designer also knows he is in the driver’s seat of a brand that reported 2021 sales of 9.73 billion euros and while he realizes “clothes can make you travel, they are ambiguous, speak different languages,” fashion reflects life and Gucci speaks to a global customer.
“To make fashion is no longer just about being inspired by a woman. Now it’s a gigantic chorus, as if in a big ocean. If you isolate something you are no longer objective, you need multiple references. You can’t simply be a tailor or a couturier, design a cocktail dress and be at the service of a rich customer,” he contended. “Fashion speaks, it’s not a hieroglyph for an elite, it talks about life. It’s a mirror, fashion needs to be a meeting of shapes, lives, colors, stories and attitudes.”
The medieval references ran from the graphic patterns in different colors — although the harlequin motif was a bit of a stretch — to an emphasis on the necklines with Elizabethan collars. A blue velvet embroidered gown was a stunner, but there were also prim ladylike suits and coats with mock-fur details. He also played up optical black and white patterns in body hugging dresses.
But Michele’s Gucci woman is no wallflower and there were a few nude looks and flimsy chiffon minidresses. “I am passionate about nudity, clothes that become the body and the other way around,” said the designer.
“Yes, the castle inspired me and there are elements of the past, but it’s not a deep-dive research into 13th-century costumes,” said Michele, although he admitted his early studies as a costume designer are increasingly a constant in his approach to fashion.
Another unexpected inspiration was Greta Garbo, whose jacquard, embroidered bag landed on his desk recently and whose structured ‘30s and ‘40s jackets were reflected in some of his jacket designs.
This being Gucci, Michele didn’t forget to send out eye-catching, strong accessories, such as laced-up stiletto boots, platform sandals and ballerinas. A wooden handbag in different strips of brown hues, a revisited signature hobo and a checkered canvas bamboo bag are sure to be hot tickets.
Gazing at the sky wasn’t enough for Michele, whose notes took the form of a letter to German philosopher and writer Walter Benjamin. “If any thinker was able to keep together things that were so distant in time and space, rearticulating them into bursting constellations, it was Walter Benjamin. To this man, who couldn’t survive without his quotations, my gratitude,” the designer wrote.
Benjamin took his life in 1940 after the Gestapo confiscated his Paris apartment, leaving him desperate without his manuscripts and collections of quotations, “discovering them from the depths of the sea as rare and precious pearls,” said Michele, quoting historian and philosopher Hannah Arendt. “Such an extraordinary ability to illuminate connections, which would otherwise be invisible, makes Benjamin the paradigmatic figure of those thinking in constellations,” and a constellation helps him “draw conjunctions between fragments of worlds which would otherwise be dispersed,” he continued.
The past was made current by the designer, who also “thinks in constellations” as part of his job. “I was looking for a magical and mythical place, where I could lose myself, moving away from the urban sites I am used to, and meet people in places that are apparently remote,” said Michele. “Fashion is magic, too.”
The castle, commissioned around 1240 by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, King of Sicily, Germany and Italy and Holy Roman Emperor from 1220 as well as King of Jerusalem from 1225, a patron of science and the arts, fit the bill for the designer. It blends elements from Northern Europe, the Islamic and Swabian worlds and classical antiquity, representing a crossroads of different civilizations and religions — a change from the Baroque architecture he is used to in Rome.
“Frederick was a great emperor, kind of like a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, super-socialite, very high-profile, and I am sure he had many raves here,” he claimed.