Long, dark hair, black turtleneck, a few strands of hippy-boho necklaces, and a beard: introducing Alessandro Michele, the new creative director at Gucci, a man on a mission to youth-ify the brand. No high heels. No disco beat. No red carpet dressing. With one fell gesture of a fur-lined, bedroom slipper–like, backless loafer, he swept all that off the runway. His set even hinted at an urge take a step beyond the runway and into reality—it was designed to evoke a subway tunnel. “Contemporary fashion,” he said “is something that can happen on the street.” Say again? No sexiness? He shook his head, smiling. “No! Sensuality is what’s inside.”
What’s inside Michele himself is a feeling for fresh-faced, virtually makeup-free girls in glasses wearing A-line, pleated, leather midi skirts, vintage-genre silk dresses, and fluttery floral chiffons. He is also interested in androgyny—or, in the new buzz-phrase, “gender-neutrality.” Girls who looked like boys wore shirts and boy-cut pants, and boys who looked like girls sported pussycat bow blouses. It is certainly the first time in recorded history that a knitted crochet bobble hat has ever been worn on a Gucci women’s runway. Say what you like, it’s impossible to be sexy in a bobble hat.
What this turnabout will mean for Gucci as a brand will only be seen much further down the road. Michele may have been working here as a designer for twelve years, but since he was appointed to succeed Frida Giannini, he’s only had a matter of weeks to assemble this statement of intent. He says it’s a personal one: “I know the Gucci archive better than my own flat! But this is my own language, and I cannot do anything else.”
It’s potentially a momentous break with the past. Ever since Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani faced each other off in the eighties, Italian fashion has been divided into two camps—hot-and-sexy on the one side, intellectual reserve on the other. It’s a pattern which has cascaded down the decades: Miuccia Prada and Marni in the “eccentric” corner, Tom Ford going hell for leather with Sex in the Nineties. And just lately, the pattern is repeated yet again, with the rise of a new nightclubbing Italian tendency upheld by the likes of Fausto Puglisi and Anthony Vaccarello at Versus Versace. And strangely, with this collection Michele seems as if he’s leading Gucci across the floor in the opposite direction. Is this shaping up to be a momentous break with the past?