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There’s a whole load of baloney being said right now about the speed of fashion. It’s usually when a designer leaves a label, or when members of the print media cannot understand another new app which is taking yet more attention away from them. The theory is that fashion is running so fast, it’s out of control. Actually, something very different is going on. For all the immediacy of the internet, in the 21st century fashion itself has slowed down.
The main proponent of this is Gucci, where creative director Alessandro Michele is celebrating his first year in the job. “I still think it’s really new to believe that a piece from your wardrobe is beautiful,” he said backstage. It was 40 minutes before the show was due to begin, and we were walking along a rail of clothes ready to be put on the models.
A tapestry coat had its hem raw-cut, a velvet jacket was richly embroidered, held by frogging. It was familiar to what he had shown a year ago, six months ago, at pre-collection, cruise, for women, for men, whichever. Michele has a totally new outlook. Rather than aggressively pushing forwards, fashion can feel fresh by staying calm and looking deeper into itself.
It is a point of view that has reignited Gucci. A couple of days ago, I asked a buyer from a major retailer if Michele’s version of Gucci was selling. He said it was: the catwalk clothes were doing great, but more crucially its sneaker and shoe business has exploded, with a new appetite for Gucci loafers. One more thing: how many journalists had asked him the same question? He laughed, “Loads.”
Michele is a designer who applies profound theory to his work, while also making fashion that is both covetable and fun. “I put together fragments of my memory,” he said. “But everybody has a different memory. You can look at the same thing, and after it you remember something and me too, they are completely different.”
The result is something familiar but also weird. It’s been a week where many brands have cited space as inspiration, but the Gucci show was the most space-y. It felt like a trip. “I don’t want to have a real space in fashion,” he said. “I want to fly. It’s the way to be myself.” Take the embellished tracksuit with a repeat mustard and navy optical pattern, like a load of tessellated open books. It was worn over a mesh vest printed with an image of Snoopy. That’s right, Snoopy.
“I put this here because Snoopy is a piece of romanticism for me from the 80s,” he said. Michele is in his forties, and was talking about his memories of Snoopy as a kid. “And because Snoopy was a philosopher, in a way.”
We moved on, and reached a quite beautiful suit of printed floral squares bordered by a grid of red wavy lines. It could be a curtain in a caravan — a compliment. Is it an old print? “Nothing came from the archive,” said Michele. “But it could be a memory, whether it is Gucci, whether it is not.”
We’d only done one rail and models were swarming, ready to be dressed. He headed to the women’s rail, where one of the waiting models was Hari Nef of television series Transparent. Michele continued. “I’m obsessed with work and embroidery and fabric,” he said. “I did a big research . . .”
Someone talked in his ear, and they spoke Italian to each other. “I am sorry, we are late,” he said. The models needed to be dressed, the show had to start. “Always we are late.”
Michele was taken away but I remained behind to look at the clothes as the models were put in them. A raglan-sleeved, long check coat had an embroidered bear on the back. Suddenly I was surrounded, limbs of angular young men everywhere. It was like being caught in a thicket. I headed out to my seat.
What struck in the show was the emotive power of his clothing, and his quite extraordinary eye for colour. A jade green jacket was worn over a fine yellow rollneck with loose but cropped purple pants. A pink cardigan worn over a red pussybow top with cherry pants. Simple looks were some of the strongest, like a wide necked T-shirt matched with blue pants, an excellent yellow sweater with borders of brown worn with dusty pink cords, or a blue cardigan knitted with yellow teddy bears matched with faded jeans.
With womenswear added in, the show was 58 looks long. Every garment shown could be sold right now in Gucci’s stores. This is something new: so much of what is seen at these shows never gets put into production. Here, there’s no dilution: what Michele shows, they sell. Afterwards, a representative of the brand asked me what I thought. I said it made me want to go straight to the Gucci store. Which is the exactly the point, they said.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a lovely fashion bubble. Michele has understood a major shift in the way that people dress in the internet age. Trends have pretty much disappeared. There are many reasons why: people no longer need to communicate so much with their clothing when they can do so with their phone. Meanwhile, on social media, familiarity of style is actually more popular than something unusual or strange. Buy a good pair of jeans now, you’ll probably be able to wear them next year, the year after. It’s a great time to enjoy wearing clothes, because that old tension of being in or out is pretty much irrelevant.
At Gucci, Michele has tapped into that pleasure. “The most important thing is the way you let the people dream about something,” he had said backstage, “Not what is real, what is fake, I mean fashion is all fake.” True. But his effect on Gucci is very real, and very welcome.
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