The cruise collections have always been about practical, faintly fashionable clothes that can be worn for getaways to faraway lands and nearby beaches, or during what is considered “between seasons”. Perhaps no longer. With Gucci’s recent cruise collection, you sense that perhaps smart pants, proper sundresses, and ever-useful twin-sets are less required to tide you over lean fashion months till the season proper arrives.
Staged in England (this season, fashion’s destination du jour after South America), Gucci’s parading in the 700-year-old Westminster Abbey’s Cloisters last week was a pre-season as extravagant as the main collections. Where monks once gathered for meditation and exercise, models now marched past to tantalise the guests with clothes that stuck out in the monastic surroundings. The cruise collections, formerly a low-key presentation—so much so that some brands content with just issuing look books rather than staging a full-scale showing—is now the equal-opportunity attention grabber. If Cannes is the increasingly visible rival to the Oscars, then the Cruise season is the welcome competitor to the Prêt-a-Porter.
Naturally, Gucci did not disappoint. Not since Tom Ford’s day has the brand’s every showing been so talked about and editorialised. A thrill, too, it must have been for the newly-found fans—social-media-savvy admirers who are completely consumed by Alessandro Michele’s Insta-genic clothes. It’s hard to say if they’re drawn to Gucci’s continued geeky-goofiness—pitched by Mr Michele when he first took over the creative direction last year—because of the design or styling. The carefully crafted oddities seem more evocative of a movie-world past than a reflection of present-day realities. In the end, some fashion will not leave retro land and Gucci has, since the ’90s, been associated with decades of long-ago.
As his post-debut confidence builds up, Mr Michele pushes his sartorially awkward looks, initially attributed to the librarian, further. Now, it’s more like a five-year-old playing dress up with her dotty grandma. Visually, it seems Mr Michele’s secret muse is Shelly Duval (check out the fashion film—euphemism for extra-long advertising—or “stories” as Gucci calls it: The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice). In the Cruise at the Cloisters, there’s the hippy vibe too, augmented by a soundtrack of Scarborough Fair performed as choral music. If only we could smell patchouli.
Online, it is all agog with cries of “so Gucci.” So who’s Gucci? No answer required for Mr Michelle has so effectively and powerfully wiped out all past Gucci associations with his brand of battiness that from now, it’s his Gucci that’s “so Gucci”. The press has called this a “seismic effect”. It’s a shakeup fashion apparently has been waiting for. Mr Michele does it not with new cuts or new silhouettes, but with mixing different elements, textures, prints, and colours as if he’s gone delirious in a forgotten antique haberdashery.
In the Cloisters, the parade—and it was—overwhelmed with frills and flounces, lace and leather, tartans and the Union Jack. There were 96 looks in Mr Michele’s idolisation of Great Britain, and each simply bursting, but whether with ideas or taste, it’s hard to say. The quirky coats, the prim pleated skirts, the floral dresses by themselves seem unremarkable, but when everything came together, the riot is unmistakable. It’s enough to give you a headache. And the cats, those recurrent cats: they’ll make Ellen DeGeneres very happy.
To be sure, Mr Michele’s homage to Britannia is not the London cool that Burberry has been putting forward (and has now dissipated somewhat). The press calls it “English eccentric” but it has less to do with the British eccentricity of originals such as the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry (also a mountain biking enthusiasts who cross-dresses!) than the calculated Italian quirk of the late Anna Piaggi, whose strange style was what Bill Cunningham called “definitely outside fashion”. Mr Michele sure knows how to multiply the weirdness to edge his style slightly outside the parameters of good taste. As he told Tim Blanks, “You put more and more just to be crazy because when you are crazy, you have the illusion of fashion.”
And the “illusion”, to Mr Blanks, is a “gorgeous overload”. The fantasy begets one question, how long can Mr Michele carry on in this mode? When will fashionistas tire of the OTTness? Perhaps never, since fashion is increasingly not fashion if it does not look like fashion… an “illusion”. In fact, not only are a new generation of consumers buying into its oddball aesthetic, a past generation weaned on the visual extravagance of designers such as Kansai Yamamoto, too, are taking to Gucci’s new intemperance with equal feverishness.
Fashion can no longer afford a lull period or a tame transitional collection such as the Cruise seasons of before. Gucci’s ramping up of its already unrestrained offerings attests to the very real, times-have-changed fashion sigh we often hear. If Christmas trees can be erected and decorated in July, as Australians know well, fashion, too, can cross seasons to come up fabulous any time of the year, any time of the day, even on an actual cruise, in the noon-day sun.
Gucci seems to have found its groove and isn’t jiving to another beat soon, not even momentarily for the pre-season. Fashion, sustenance to many, needs no seasonal break. Never mind if you’re banging on the same drum as long as it can be heard far and wide, and draw the hordes. DJs have, of course, known for a long time the appeal of the non-stop mix: give the crowd no recess and they won’t halt the dancing. Alessandro Michele has completely supplanted what The Telegraph described as “a louche, easy-going, and sporty sexiness” of Gucci’s early years with his brand of aggressive flamboyance and there’s no slowing the assault.
To cover wider ground, Gucci included men’s wear in the Cruise for the first time, ratifying what CEO Marco Bizzarri said in April that the men’s and women’s lines will be shown as one. The fashion system and calendar is, of course, undergoing a major shakeup. Whichever direction the show seasons will head, it is clear that the Cruise collections are marching to the fore with attention-seeking swagger.