Milan Fashion Week: Menswear report 3
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And so continues the tumultuous story of Gucci. Today’s autumn/winter 2015 menswear show was the first since the double ousting of Frida Giannini as creative director and her partner Patrizio di Marco as CEO. The initial plan was for Giannini to design this season’s collections for men and women. Then she abruptly left for good. Today’s collection was designed from scratch by the in-house team in seven days. Everything that Giannini had been working on had been scrapped. Such drama, but such a small part of the wider issues facing Kering’s biggest banker.
The show itself was a surprise. After seasons of straightforward stuff at Gucci, the brand took a turn towards the male/female gender play that has preoccupied many designers of late. Let’s be blunt: much of it looked like Prada from two seasons ago, especially the chiffon shirts worn with sludgy brown trousers. Was this a problem? For such a quick-turnaround collection, no, because at least it showed the nerve of those backstage to do a such a complete volte-face.
Actually, the best pieces were those that looked like Gucci menswear. Strong were pieces like a suede blazer, a little paisley top and a parka with a shearling-lined hood. There were many good ideas bouncing around, such as a corduroy jacket with astrakhan trims at the cuff. Double-G belts looked relevant for the first time in ages. At the end, the entire team came and took a bow. The crowd roared, the biggest noise in that room since the departure of Tom Ford.
All the talk in Milan is about who will be the next creative director. In the running is current head accessories designer Alessandro Michele, who led the team in making this collection. Good luck to him. But there are so many other issues facing the new CEO Marco Bizzarri, an import from Kering stablemate Bottega Veneta. Some are obvious and urgent, like an overhaul of the current lifeless store design. Others are more holistic. What does Kering want Gucci to be? It is one of the most famous brands in the world. Why doesn’t it feel as agile and relevant as Apple, or as embedded in people’s lives as Starbucks?
The comparison with Apple is an important one. Consumers around the world flood into Apple stores prepared to spend thousands without a flinch. Many of those same consumers would feel too intimidated even to go into Gucci for a keyring. Then there’s the threat posed to Gucci by Apple itself. It’s called the Apple Watch. A possible future exists where its Apple Pay function does away with credit cards and currency all together. A key product category for Gucci is small leather goods: wallets, credit card holders, purses. How will it cope if suddenly no one has the need for them?
This may sound a curveball theory, but it’s one that comes from inside Apple itself. This is a stealth issue for many of Italy’s leather-based luxury labels, but it feels pertinent to Gucci because it is a brand with the rare opportunity to reimagine itself for the 21st century. Whether it grasps or shirks away from the big questions will determine its future. Such a brand overhaul has already been achieved at Kering’s Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane. It’s Gucci’s turn to be bold now.
What just happened at Emporio Armani? At the beginning, some shadowy figures ran out into the darkness with mini torches. It was like watching the bit-part actors in some million dollar heist movie. The lights went semi-up to reveal models stood stock still in skin-tight bodysuits. Nobody moved. The lights went down, and they scarpered. The show that followed - knitwear, jersey - had absolutely no connection. Did I imagine it? Have I been at shows too long?
There were many nice pieces on the catwalk, especially the Armani safe ground of knit blazers and soft tailoring. He wove into cloth the effect of a paint stroke, which was particularly pleasing. Less so were the low-cut waistcoats on some ghoulish evening looks - not advisable wear for a first Tinder date. Compared to the Gucci catwalk, there was not a whiff of revolution, which is exactly how Mr Armani wants it.
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