Gucci has done well by London. The British were quick to adopt the new aesthetic ushered in by creative director Alessandro Michele when he took control of the Kering-owned house in January 2015. And where some countries (France) baulked a little at his taste for oddball eccentricism and designs on the fading grandeur of the gilded elite, the Brits fell for it, head over rabbit-fur-lined, pearl-studded, snake-embellished heels.
Kering reported group revenues of €2.7bn in the first quarter of this year, during a very sluggish season throughout the luxury sector. Gucci, which accounts for a third of the group’s profits, reported sales growth of 2.9 per cent, with comparable sales up 20 per cent in directly operated stores in Western Europe. In a time of flatlining conversion rates and an absence of Asian tourists in Europe, Gucci’s growth has been a rare exception. “We’ve seen strong double-digit growth in London, especially in the past few months,” said the Gucci chief executive Marco Bizzarri. “And we’re seeing local customers coming back to the stores who haven’t been to Gucci in nearly 20 years. It’s only been 15 months, but the word of mouth has been great.”
On Thursday afternoon, the Italian luxury house returned the compliment, staging its first catwalk presentation in the capital. For Michele, the decision was as much creative as it was commercial. A committed Anglophile, he describes Jane Austen as “one of the first feminists, because she really understood what happens between a woman and a man”, and nominates Elizabeth I as being “one of my favourite women” and “a huge inspiration”.
Fitting then that he staged his London debut in the very space in which the Virgin Queen was crowned on January 15 1559. Alas, there was no coronation at Westminster Abbey on Thursday afternoon but this cruise show, staged in the Abbey’s cloisters and showcasing clothes that will go in store in December, contained almost everything else: choristers singing Scarborough Fair, velvet deerstalkers and trenchcoats, jacquard bomber jackets, beribboned boaters fit for the Henley Regatta, tulle gowns fit for Abigail’s Party; snow-bleached denims and punky studded leathers, logo hoodies, a Union Jack sweater, a Staffordshire spaniel-embroidered dressing-gown, Bobby socks, winkle-pickers and straight-up tuxedo suiting. There were even crowns, albeit of the floral variety, and rain bonnets fashioned in glorious brocades.
“I wanted to dive into the Gothic sea of the UK,” the designer explained in the show’s aftermath. “England is like a box full of treasures. It’s something I’ve loved all my life. I love how the contemporary sits with the past. It’s all about the hidden details. Or the punk having a cup of tea.”
Despite the absence of a catechism, this was a collection to suits the most catholic of tastes. There remains something uniquely invigorating about Michele’s Gucci: you just can’t help getting swept up in the exuberance of his ideas. And colours. And enthusiasm. This cruise show was utterly surreal and strangely brilliant. Long may it reign.