Potent Pairing

In a collaboration that no one saw coming, Gucci seems to finally be shifting gears

Did the Gucci show really happen? Is Gucci really 100? Why was Balenciaga the elder (104!) roped in to celebrate? Is this a tap-thy-stablemate’s-mind Gucci for the next century? Did your head not spin? Does Gucci need Balenciaga to—finally—look this interesting? Are they not able to reinvent themselves on their own? Is this Balenciaga doing Gucci? A sort of guest editor? Or Gucci in homage mode? Or an expression of Alessandro Michele’s desire to do Balenciaga? Do we need a Balenciaga ‘Hourglass’ bag with Gucci monogram? Or Gucci jackets with Balenciaga shoulders? Or Gucci-Balenciaga suits with the logotype of both brands littered on them, like department store gift wrappers? Or the familiar printed leggings-cum-boots chez Balenciaga? What’s a coat fastened to the extreme left a la Balenciaga doing in a Gucci collection? Or an asymmetric dress with a draped hemline so evocative of the B appearing in a show (still) typical of the G?

Is the world we are living in now not confusing enough?

The action takes place in supposedly London’s Savoy Hotel, imagined as a club with a catwalk and a secret garden. The music is not house (as has been the choice of the season at other houses), but a mish-mash that is a narcissistic bang at Gucci as narcotic, from Lil Pump’s yo-bro chorus of “Gucci gang” to Tita von Tesse’s tease on Die Antwood’s “Gucci coochie”. And there is a lot to analyse and unpack. But we may risk misreading everything. Mr Michele is, of course, no stranger to collaboration (the allegedly sold-out collab with The North Face, the most recent). He is also quite the plunderer of the past and cultures not his own. This collection, conversely called “Aria” (essentially an operatic solo), although a “pop” version, looks to the past, to self, and to contemporaries in a show that seems to salute whatever deserves to be hailed. A greatest hits of Gucci’s own legacy, the now fashion culture that the house is largely part of, and the design contributions of another equally iconoclastic, if not more, label. As Mr Michele said, post-show, to the media, “I have been an excellent thief, a robber.”

This is not the Gucci we are used to. It’s less geeky (except some of the models), less foolish (except, maybe the accessories), and even less irreverent (except, again, the accessories). Could this be Mr Michele’s tame side; he on the periphery of reasonableness? The clothes do not look too vintage-y (the retro vibe cannot, of course, be totally rid of) nor do they deliberately look as though sourced from the Salvation Army. We keep seeking out Balenciaga, but the partnership is not so much the two designers coming together to design the collection as one expressing love for the work of another. This is not the same as, say, Dries van Noten and Christian Lacroix in 2019. Or, contemporaneously, Valentino and Undercover. And definitely not Miuccia Prada with Raf Simons (no way!). Rather, Mr Michele “quoted” Demna Gvasalia, according to the show notes, not copied. Euphemistic talk no doubt, but it makes the results very much Mr Michele’s singular doing. Apparently, he was granted permission by his Georgian Kering associate to create hacks of Balenciaga’s distinctive silhouettes for both the ready-to-wear and the leather goods. This truly speaks of the creative culture of today, when Balenciaga can be treated like Ikea. Replete with rhinestones and marabou!

The references make for absorbing viewing. For so long (it has been more than half a decade of Alessandro Michele’s tenure!), Gucci has been frustratingly predictable that we wanted to really not dislike this collection. Sure, we do not expect Gucci to suddenly become unprovocative. We want their fans to go on being enamoured. It is inevitable there is enough camp to keep both Harry Styles and Jared Leto delighted and sufficient logos and indeterminate forms to keep Billie Eillish coming back for more. And adequate 70s disco glam (glittered cowl-neck top for men!) to get night owls ready for the day when bars and club can open. At the same time, it is refreshing to see that some of the tailoring is ‘classic’ and that the clothes sit well; the oversized is not actually ill-fitting. And the return of equestrian details, even if they are harnesses for chests or saddles for shoulders—not so barefaced since Dawn Mello was hired to revive the brand in 1989. But we are not sure if we are used to seeing Balenciaga’s extraordinary (less so now), offbeat (that, too) shapes within the kooky universe—including a near-obsession with body parts held in the hand, such as this season’s glittery minaudières of anatomically-correct heart—that is the only Gucci that fashionistas know.

But Mr Michele did not only pay homage to Balenciaga, he also saluted fashion’s patriarch of sexy who changed Gucci forever, Tom Ford (totally snubbing John Ray, Alessandra Facchinetti, and, unsurprisingly, Frida Giannini). The first suit that appeared will always be associated with Mr Ford: in red velvet, and worn with a baby blue shirt, with two buttons deliberately undone. Thankfully, none of the pre-wokeness “porno chic” was revived. That Mr Ford’s designs could be easily riffed—er, hacked—is understandable: Mr Michele and the Texan designer/film maker have a maximal love of the ’70s, even when both dance on opposite ends—one with a deep reverence for the elegance of Halston, the other with the ardour for the hipness of the hippies. The Tom Ford-era suits, now with reshaped shoulders, have the sexed-up dapper cool associated with the oddball individuality of Balenciaga, rather than something akin to those in forgotten wardrobes of Haight-Ashbury. Mr Ford is relevant again.

In most cities, dance clubs are closed, but luxury fashion seems eager for them to open or to be looking forward to the mirrored ball spinning again. The just-concluded Dior pre-fall 2021 show in Shanghai is illustrative. At Gucci, the models, flanked by flash lights, finish their catwalk routine and move to a holding area (gosh, we are thinking of Prada. Again!). But rather than ending their job there, they are led by one of them, who opens a massive door, into a garden. There, they danced among white horses—interestingly, without saddlery—and albino peacocks. Very soon, as the frolicking suggests, the world can parallel Peter Pan’s. Perhaps, Alessandro Michele, in his mind, is singing I will Survive.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Gucci

Next Collab: Gucciaga?

Two brands, totally unrecognisable from the original, are said to be teaming up. Yikes!

The pairing of Gucci and Balenciaga as we imagine it. Illustration: Just So

Alessandro Michele is on a collaboration roll. According to WWD, he and Demna Gvasalia are rumoured to be bringing Gucci and Balenciaga together. Not unimaginable since both brands are luxury conglomerate Kering’s cash cows. They are destined to make more money together. Gucci will be showing its new collection Aria on Thursday and that’s when the said collab will be unveiled. Both designers have kept mum about their partnership.

A brand that was once a couture house now joins with another that was started as a leather goods shop: that’s an interesting alignment. Would this be fashion’s ultimate high-low pairing? The coupling of royalty and Hollywood (and a spill-all to follow)? Mr Michele has said that “seasonalities” are “worn-out ritual(s)”. Collaborations, apparently not. Will this show that Michele Alessandro is better at sussing out hot collabs than Kim Jones?

Stay tuned to find out.

The Gucci Epic-Logue

An epilogue it may have been, but it was sure a long one. And we, foolishly, sat through ten hours of it

 

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The Gucci digital event dubbed Epilogue was broadcast for those who have time—a lot of it. A press release from their office here had informed us that the show would begin at 2pm, our time, and would last for 12 hours. That’s even longer than Peter Brook’s 1985 staging of Mahabharata (9-hours in length, if the unacquainted would like to know)! To be honest, we did not really sit for ten hours to watch the event: we let the PC run for that much of time. And came to it intermittently to see if anything was happening, like a brood of chickens looking for food or a couple of models jumping on a trampoline. Otherwise, the backstage peepshow revealed mostly models having their make-up done and getting dressed, and workmen doing whatever workmen do for fashion events.

The first sign that something was going to happen appeared at the sixth hour, around 8pm, just after we finished dinner and had done the dishes. This seemed like a good time for something substantive to happen. As it turned out, Gucci was sharing the look-book photos, with a brief (actually, not quite) intro from Alessandro Michele, explaining what he had done and was doing in his usual long, compound sentences. That was followed by the look-book snaps tagged onto the screen like a less organised Pinterest page, as well as clips of his references including mundane things such as vegetables.  This was presumably the ‘show’ segment. They called it “The Final Act of a Fairy Tale.”

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It was shot in the 478-year-old residence, Palazzo Sacchetti, considered one of the most important late Renaissance aristocratic buildings of Rome that, in 2017, was listed for sale at a whopping €57 million. Apple OS-style windows popped up against a video shot of the interior of this unoccupied home. The music accompanying this segment could have been inspired by Sega games, with their cheery electronic bleeps. As with Alessandro Michele’s version of Gucci, the tech, too, had to be retro. Even a spectrogram of the speaking voice was shown, making the overall visual composition appear like something from early Macintosh computers.

At around 10pm, we stopped our pre-bedtime routine to watch a male model doing his thing which was to, inexplicably, remove women’s underclothes from a clothes line and pile them on his right shoulder. It was not indicated if they manage to get that shot. An hour later, after our last drink of the night, we sat in front of our monitor to see a turbaned female model in a floor-length dress running down a garden path, pushing a wheelbarrow with one giant pumpkin in it. She did not make it to the end without first dropping a diamond-shaped, drop earring the size of her palm and then unloading the giant squash. Whether that shot became a success, we knew not. At midnight, with the photo shoot still going on, we decided to surrender to our bed.

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This morning, when we were able to gather our thoughts after our four-fruit, steel-cut oat breakfast, and the tedious Gucci video had come to a halt while we were asleep, we felt that perhaps Gucci had created an impact as the closing show for Milan Fashion Week. Unfortunately, it was an arduous process to sit through as most of it was superfluous, and we are no gadflies on no wall. Was there a need to take experiential to such ridiculous lengths? Mr Michele said in his intro, “narrating it this way, and presenting this way, to the press, to the outside world, looking inside the mechanism of an advertising campaign like a peeping tom, is interesting to me as an element that disassociates the narrative of fashion from the show, from the representation itself.”

Perhaps, Gucci fans might find watching the going-ons “like a peeping tom” appealing, but for many members of the press who have attended tons of photo shoots in similar conditions (except without masks), there was no sexual gratification in surreptitiously watching people at work. Moreover, one can hardly call Gucci clothes sexy. The Tom Ford era is long gone. Rather than offering us a “front row seat”, as other brands had proffered, Gucci has made room on one of the ornate walls of the Palazzo Sacchetti for us to hang on to to peep into his advertising shoot. Do people care about the minutiae of the production of fashion images, especially those not entirely perceptible? This was more banking on the voyeuristic nature of Netizens so susceptible to all manner of ‘porn’ than truly giving pleasure to those of us for whom fashion can be enjoyed as personal pursuit and celebrated as artistic expression.

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The look-book shots for the Cruise 2021 collection (not spring) gave an impression that the assembling was still in the process. It is perhaps cute that the photos come with Sick-It notes, detailing each style. We also know from this that Gucci used the staff from their design studio, who, perhaps unsurprisingly carry the Gucci look to a T. Why the company bothered to cast from modelling agencies when they could have sourced from within, we may never know. The photos cleverly suggest that indeed anyone can wear Gucci and look Gucci.

By now we know what that look is. Five years into his tenure as the main—and mane—man of the house, Alessandro Michelle continues to prove that his vintage-y looks gathered from various sources and across various eras, and put together as a collagist does, and then given a veneer of philosophical musings, are what fashion folks want. It does not matter that all the excess is surface, under which little is gravitas. The collection thus benefits from our no-description. We have said as much as necessary of Gucci under Mr Michelle and if his looks don’t vary, neither will our view.

Screen grabs: gucci.com

Gucci Made An Announcement On Instagram

And it’s 18-posts long!

Gucci IG posts 23 May

Seriously?

It took Gucci 18 IG squares to announce that from now, the brand will show two collections a year. But you may not immediately see that in what was posted. Concise, it’s been said, is the way to go on IG, but Gucci, which earned parent company Kering US$10.7 billion of the latter’s $17.5 billion in revenue for 2019, has chosen to move with the opposite. The singular message comprises 6 textual posts each in English and Italian, separated by an illustration of a winged heart-shape with a single eye, captioned with “Notes from the Silence”. It is hard enough to read just one. To do all six requires some vestige of fortitude. Social entries these are not; pompous prose they are.

We love to read and we have no objection to lengths, but Gucci’s journal-like entries were a sharp contrast to prevalent social media communication: they were ponderous. And, frankly, pretentious. And they were made more unreadable by a font that seemed to be the effect of a faulty typewriter type head. Each post is titled, and what headers! Example: “The Sacred Power of Producing Reverberations”. How’s that for a stumper? Or are we missing something audio, something aural? As it turned out, “here comes the desire to baptise our new encounters by naming them after a language that has marvelously ancient roots: classical music language”.

Since it was written in the first person, we assumed the writer to be Alessandro Michele (there’s a signature at every end, but we are not sure it belongs to the designer). Each post is not only dated, the place where it was written identified—unsurprisingly it is Rome. Which led us to suspect that the verbose posts were penned in Italian and then translated by an overzealous PR appointee. To better reflect the superfluous that determines Mr Michele’s Gucci?

Reworking the fashion calendar is what many brands are now doing, or considering. Mr Michele proposed with a baroque flourish: “I will abandon the worn-out ritual of seasonalities and shows to regain a new cadence, closer to my expressive call,” he wrote. “And beyond, I would like to leave behind the paraphernalia of leitmotifs that colonized our prior worlds… I believe that we can build our tomorrow also starting from a renewed capacity of denomination… It’s a foundational act, audacious but necessary, that aims at building a new creative universe. A universe that essentialises itself in the subtraction of events and that oxygenates through the multiplication of senses…”

Yes—what was that?!

Photo: Gucci/Instagram

You Spin Me

As usual, Gucci takes us on a dizzying twirl

 

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Gucci has earlier announced that, with the COVID-19 outbreak still a global health threat, few, if any, Chinese/Asian buyers/editors/influencers would be in town for its autumn/winter 2020 presentation. But the show must go on. And a show it is, a rotating fish tank of a show. Given what’s happening in our part of the world, forgive us for seeing the revolving, glassed-up presentation as evocation of a quarantine facility, with the models-as-potentially-infectious-individuals peering out, longing to be freed, but could not be until, the rotation (metaphor for the passing of time?) stops. Meanwhile, lab-coated dressers, the equivalent of medical staff in attendance, watched coldly. They might as well be in hazmat suits. In the middle, a fluorescent metronome ticks away, seen but not heard (save the brief intro) as Maurice Ravel’s Bolero played on: hastening the end of the confinement? When the time is right, fashion is finally freed. It’s a release passengers of the Diamond Princess, docked in Yokohama, know, and have experienced and tasted.

Before they stepped out, you’d have been introduced to the Gucci cast of characters, standing as stationary as those in an identification line-up: the fashionista, the IG star, the movie star, the starlet, the showgirl, the schoolgirl, her school teacher, the principal, the housewife, the mistress, the matron, the auditor, the geek, the punk, the hippie (of course), the ah lian, her BFFs, the war veteran, the war-time nurse, the housekeeper, the chambermaid, the novice nun, the harlot, the budget tourist, the wealthy traveller, the fashion swapper, the Salvation Army habitué, the ghost of Scarlet O’Hara. Surprisingly, the pop wunderkind is missing. There are, of course, the less straightforward: those that people such a diorama, those that stand indescribable, the motley brood that lends Gucci its zaniness and irreverence, and predictability.

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Some of the clothes look like they are pieces from previous shows, restyled, or from other eras, liberated from their owners’ wardrobes, pulled together to seduce those who are not sensitive enough to imagine that the separates can come together in such a seemingly haphazard way and still direct attention to a point in the past. There are those gowns that would not look out of place if you were to to time-travel back to the American Civil War, dresses that looked like what evil Anabelle might not want, suits revived from ’70s Burda, bondage gear and add-ons that could have come out of The Happy Hooker, and assorted outers that can be imagined as Empress Michiko’s cast-offs. It’s really a wonder that no one has yet thought to get Alessandro Michele to costume a period film.

For sure, there is yet a shift in Mr Michele’s maximalist playfulness. While he seemed to have toned down, even a smidgen, the men’s show, he has maintained the amplification for the women’s. This time, you could discern design, that elusive line between styling and creation. At first, a pair of intriguing sleeves is spotted—they look like deformed spools. Then, a pleats-meet-gathers bodice-to-waist, Balmain-esque flounces, and a negligee-dress that is, strangely, abbreviated at the waist into a bow. If only some of these ideas were expanded (another pair of those sleeves for men hardly count), there could have been more of what the eye has not yet gotten used to. As we know, the correlative of familiarity is boredom.

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Whether we are bored or not, no one expects less from Alessandro Michele. So he gives you the full monty. He has successfully pitched himself to be so adept at assembling clothes to yield a certain visual kookiness and, of course, excess, built upon obscure historicism that one notch down the scale of superfluity may, for fans and the converted, spell impoverishment for fashion. The more you see the more you’re going to be convinced that even five years after Mr Michele showed his vision for Gucci, you are not yet satiated.

That’s the amazing power of Mr Michele, an illusionist who can create desire by constantly turning up the volume of more is better. And that no one should settle for less. Even a fashion show has to offer extra by opening up the backstage in full, behind-the-scene mode. Seeing models get dressed, layer by layer, heightens the desirability of the clothes, perhaps? It was Tom Ford, the first to revive the Florentine house, who showed that, at Gucci, the cup has to runneth over. Mr Michele, although aesthetically different from Mr Ford, is just as good at keeping it just overflowing. It is true that in this social-media age, “nothing succeeds like excess”, as Oscar Wilde said. “Moderation,” he was convinced, “is a fatal thing”. Alessandro Michele shows he knows that well, too.

Photos: Gucci

The Anti-Fit Firmly In Place At Gucci

Forget about clothes that sit nicely on the body. Gucci is telling you to go too small or too big

 

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It is a matter of time, isn’t it, when the oversized will share the runway with the undersized? Just like black would meet white, masculine would encounter feminine, Tarzan would make contact with Jane. Now that roomier-than-normal has gone mainstream and seems to beat the tailored fit as the look to adopt, Gucci has taken the opposite, proving that even in sizing, what goes up must come down—really down.

But Alessandro Michele did not resuscitate the baby tees of the ’90s; he actually put out clothes that appear to be too small for the wearer or didn’t grow with him. One shirt, in particular, stood out: it is so tight, it won’t button up, leaving a placket with gapes. Another, a sweater that appeared before this, is short at both the hemline of the bodice and sleeve (emblazoned across the chest, humourlessly, the words “MON PETIT”—my little, in French), exactly like those worn by the kid who grew too quickly for his clothes. Could this be fashion finally owning up to the fact that, just as there are those boys who won’t accept adult responsibilities as they mature, as identified by Dr Dan Kiley in his seminal 1983 book Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Never Grow Up, there are men who won’t don adult clothing as they age?

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Either that or the clothes are too big, not in the least oversized, as we (still) see at, say, Balenciaga, but really the wrong size. Plaid shirts hang on the body as loosely as the knit vest worn over it, both with the sharpness of discards consigned to the Salvation Army, T-shirts that are too baggy, look, as the chest tells us, “impotent”; military jackets so large, the quartermaster probably wanted you to look this foolish, and jeans so much bigger than the waist, they look like part of contributions for flood victims.

It is’t immediately clear what this challenge to proper sizing might be. You sense that this is ridiculous having a fashion moment. It begs one question: how will Gucci train its sales staff to respond when a customer, emerging from the fitting room (are they necessary anymore?), asks, ”Is this my size? Is it a nice fit? Do I look good?”

Some members of the media describe this as Gucci “re-inventing masculinity”. Really? Smocked, bib-front auntie blouse on a male torso, with chest hair sprouting out of the V-shaped neckline befits the new man? In earlier days, that would have been called half-drag. And we don’t mean that as a form of shamming. Only now, with things being less (not?) binary, we somehow think a guy in a top that would look better on his primary school daughter is somehow better at representing male sartorial flair. Disruption is not necessarily fashion. And, let’s not tag this as irony; we’ve left the last decade.

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Sometimes one wonders if Mr Michele’s strategy is one of mere irreverence to affect discomfiture by taking something as unremarkable as a vintage-y girl’s blouse and putting it on a grown man. Pairing they call it, but on their own, the blouse/dress—and the military-surplus-looking pants (one with hole in the left knee!) that they go with—could be found in any weekend market, from Clignancourt to Chatuchak. However clever, however hi-brow the reference, however deep in shock value (or wrecking of nerves), this is really akin to what participants of Rupaul’s Drag Race already/usually wear before the race.

This season, Mr Michelle also riffs off the late Franco Moschino who riffed off Chanel. That and, surprisingly, Marc Jacobs interpreting, well, Marc Jacobs interpreting whoever. Mr Michell is known as a godown of immeasurable reference points and a willing mixer of disparate elements, historical or not, pop or not, good or not. This autumn/winter 2020 show at Milan’s Palazzo Delle Scintille has a giant, Miley-Cyrus-missing wrecking ball of a pendulum swinging menacingly in the centre of the presentation space. What was Gucci really aiming at, but did not gain a hit?

Photos: Gucci

Taking A Break From Retro Kookiness

It is not yet clear if this is a new Gucci or just a lull season

 

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Barely a day after Gucci’s new season, the collection is already controversial. The show opened not with its usual explosion of colour and visual mayhem, but a prelude that was, after the presentation, upstaged by a model who thought the segment she was in not acceptable. In a set of clothes that look like they could have been toiles, Alessandro Michele sends out what appears to be straitjackets, alluding to those worn in certain medical institutions. The model, Ayesha Tan Jones, scribbled on her hands, “Mental Health Is Not Fashion”, and held them up for all to see. Gucci later claimed this was not part of their show.

Mr Michele’s Gucci is, of course, not a newcomer to controversy. For the autumn/winter 2018 show, he set the runway in a space with an uncanny resemblance to an operating theatre and paraded models holding severed heads or wearing assorted head wear, including Sikh turbans. Then there was the Dapper Dan issue (which was later resolved by a collaboration) and the “blackface sweater” of early this year, eventually removed from the selling floor. Talking of runways, the travolator as catwalk is not the first in a fashion week since Kim Jones had presented his Dior last season on a similar moving pavement.

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The controversy, and the high-concept inspiration—grandiose reference to the French philosopher/social theorist Michel Foucault—threatened to down play what could be an important (or, again, controversial) development for Gucci: change. While still recognisably Gucci in its jumble of hints of the past, the effect is less pronounced that what we have been used to and certainly, for some, too diluted. From the two camps we spoke to, fans declared that the collection has “none of the zany-ness” they like, while non-fans have insisted that “he (Mr Michele) is essentially doing the same thing. Again”.

Between that, sex. BOF’s Tim Blanks reported that Mr Michele said, “The way Tom Ford looked at sex was ambiguous… It was more like something pagan, and I was drawn to that perversity.” Pagan perversity! What would Mr Ford have said about that; he who projected, during his tenure at Gucci, an image of raw, highly-charged sexual energy? Or his partner-in-crime, Carine Roitfeld? The sex talk with Mr Blanks is at odds with the show notes, which, as reported by vogue.com, state that the clothes “allow people to walk through fields of possibilities, cultivate beauty, make diversity sacrosanct, and celebrate the self in expression and identity,” which, frankly, does not sound particularly sexy.

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So, what is sexy to Mr Michele? We’re not sure. Sexed-up has never been really his Gucci. In fact, it is hard to see the sex in this collection, even if there are bare breasts behind a diaphanous top of what appears to be a union suit, exposed panty and pantyhose under more sheerness, and a leg or two stuck out of slits in skirts (which would be appreciated on LA red carpets), or, in one look, negligee as cocktail wear. As usual, a cast of characters, blank-faced (or po-faced?), but still characters, populate the (movable) runway, but, these humourless-looking beings do not appear, even sans macabre props such as severed heads, particularly sexual. They look more like sophomore undergrads gone bonkers from too much study. Or, perhaps, as with much of today’s Gucci, we should not be taking the talk of sex so literally and seriously.

As expected, Alessandro Michele, being Alessandro Michele, is not able to stay away from styling that leans on the OTT, but this season the clothes are simple (and not print-heavy) enough for them to be better examined. Sure, the usual gender-bender looks are here—such as the men’s frock coat in a pink that would have Schiaparelli beaming with delight—but it should also be said that noticeable in the collection are a better fit (not the too-big dresses of the past) and suits that sing with the allure of Italian tailoring. The details, too: pleated gussets that swing from the side of a sleeveless, A-line dress; one coat similarly has pleats radiating from below the bust. Not major, for sure, but appealing to those of us who seek these little, design-in-mind touches. Logos alone, or galore, do not fashion make.

Photos: Gucci

Sassy At Celine

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You know what is going to be big come July (or whichever month the autumn/winter 2019 collections will drop)? Culottes. Seriously, culottes. Hedi Slimane has revived for Celine a garment that has for decades laid low, cery low. This is not to be confused with skorts. Mr Slimane’s are clearly “split skirts”—bifurcated, if you must get technical, or trousers cut to resemble a skirt, something that would remind those old enough the original Charlie’s Angels. Or, in our mind—imagination, really, Miuccia Bianchi Prada going to a political science class at the University of Milan.

For his second Celine women’s collection, Mr Slimane seems determined to prove to his detractors that he can do more than skinny or body-hugging. As reported in the media, Mr Slimane took a peek into the Celine archive. And this was the output—not a re-imagination, not a re-construct, but a facsimile, as the clothes appear to us. Mr Slimane has never had any use for irony or twist; he won’t either now. This could have leapt out of the pages of How to Dress like a Frenchwoman, if it was published in 1975.

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To be honest, we don’t know what Celine really looked like in the ’70s (except for some old ads we found online), when it rose in popularity. Founded in 1945 by Céline Vipiana as a made-to-measure children’s shoe store, it became, by the ’60s, a sort of Biba of the time, but more atas. The brand slowly projected the cool it was known for in the mid-’70s. Then, Ms Vipiana was still designing the line and she continued to do so until her death in 1997, aged 84. When LVMH took Céline into its fold and Michael Kors became the first designer to revive the brand, Céline was destined to be Celine, a hugely global French brand towards 2020… and much talked about, but not because of its content. Phoebe Philo was a minor extended distraction. Ironically, Mr Slimane’s approach seems to go back full circle, to where Mr Kors started.

How Mr Slimane changed the direction of the brand when he came on board and how he disappointed many is, until today, still discussed. The aesthetical shift now, we sense, is less about reacting to criticism than to once again reach back, a habit that had affected every fashion house that Mr Slimane steered. It appears to us that when he looked at the old output of Céline, thought to be those of the mid-’70s, he was really casting his mind to the past—as he did at Saint Laurent—to rehash. How else does one explain the obsession with pussy bows?

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Celine W AW 2019 G3

Mr Slimane’s Celine, therefore, seems to be joining the dots to reveal to us a picture that explicitly say FLASHBACK. Again, we can’t be sure this is close to Celine of yore (was Ms Vipiana mad about culottes?), but it does reflect an era. Some dresses looked like what Karl Lagerfeld did for Chloe in the ’70s. Or, perhaps what Alessandro Michele has been doing for Gucci, only Mr Slimane’s are better fitted. Some blouses looked like his take of what YSL muse Loulou de la Falaise might have worn back in the day, and already seen in Saint Laurent, circa 2013. And those below-the-knee schoolteacher skirts—your grandmother would know. Or, Diane Von Furstenburg. Hedi Slimane would be a worthy contestant against Marc Jacobs for the Look Back King of the Year.

Or course, Mr Slimane could not totally abandon skinny—he built a career on them pencil silhouettes. So, some pants are still reed-thin, the denim jeans too. But he did abandon baring skin. This is modest dressing! More? If you look closely, how many silhouettes are there? Three, maybe? Will this be the new merchandising norm? We had to again remind ourselves that Mr Slimane is not a designer like John Galliano, nor Demna Gvasalia, nor JW Anderson. Karl Lagerfeld, maybe. Frankly, we thought the Celine autumn/winter 2019 show was Butterick come alive.

Photos: (top) Celine/(runway) indigital.tv

More Pigs: Gucci’s Company Of Three

Like so many other brands, Gucci is taking their pick in the pen. So which 🐖 does Alessandro Michele use to help the Chinese welcome the Year of the Pig?

 

gucci x three little pigsDisney’s Three Little Pigs prances in front of Gucci’s three stripes. Photo Gucci

Actually, there is more than one. A trio, to be exact. Why, indeed, settle for a single swine when you can have three? And which of them is more famous than the three little ones?

Problem is, odd numbers are not usually preferred during CNY. But the Italians may not know that. Then again, times have changed. Even Mediacorp’s not delightful and dreadfully named zhu baobao (猪饱饱, and a pun too awful to deserve translation) comes in threes.

Gucci chose to work with Disney (who isn’t these days? ORBA, for sure!) and to tap one of their oldest animated characters, the Three Little Pigs, never mind that the trio is not one of Disney’s best or most loved, or cutest. Or, that they were created in the 1930s, hence sans the cuteness of rival Warner Brothers’ rather dapper Porky Pig whose bow tie easily beats two of the Three Little Pig’s pussy bows in the style stakes. But there is perhaps some similarity between the hogs: with the exception of the one who built his house with brings, the other siblings, like Porky, go about with bare bottoms!

19-01-12-16-27-45-321_decoThe pigs is placed in the centre of bags, such as this knapsack. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

The retro pigs, of course, suit Gucci’s current aesthetic preoccupation. While this is not the first time, Gucci is using Disney characters, the choice of the monochrome version of the cartoon pig-brothers is. In an embroidered cut out of the triumphant three (possibly after defeating the ill-fated wolf) and appliqued on various items in the 19-piece collection—which includes shoes and bags and small leather goods, this could be Gucci’s high-end take on what has been all too common at Uniqlo.

Perhaps the use of Disney characters is a lot more convenient than creating your own mascot. The Three Little Pigs have been around since the first printed version of the fable, believed to date back to the 1840s. The moral of the story—that hard work and fortitude is rewarding—may be alien to those who have bypassed traditional routes to success by using digital means or talent shows, but Gucci’s adoption of the trio not destined for the abattoir may be indication that there could be a comeback of old-fashioned values, just as there have been a return to retro styles.

Alessandro Michele is, of course, the mastermind of all this. But if the success of Gucci is any indication, who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? 

Gucci Chinese New Year collection is in stores

This Could Have Been Fiorruci

By Mao Shan Wang

This must be another inspiration. We know Gucci’s Alessandro Michele is very inspired—roused by remembrance of things past, glorious or not. He was inspired by Dapper Dan, by Chateau Marmont and, now, it seems, he was inspired by Fiorucci.

Seriously, that was what I thought when I saw this ensemble in the window. And, yes, shocked I was, too. You see, when I caught sight of the logo on the singlet, it showed the last four letters—the U, the double Cs, and the I. The consonant G was obscured from my view. What was Fiorucci doing in a Gucci window? Enjoying being the source of Mr Michele’s inspiration? You would never know.

I was also not drawn by the singlet alone (it could be a leotard, I am not sure). There was the black tiger stripes against the lurid yellow base colour. I’m not sure if Fiorucci ever produced such a top, but somehow, it feels to me like something they did, some time in the ’80s.

The styling, too, added to the whole inspired-by-something vibe. The shaggy (faux?) fur cape and the black acid-washed jeans (with so many new laundering treatments these days, I could only guess) with the characteristic creases—conspired to bring me before some place between aerobics wear and auntie fashion.

Did I hear you say irony? Again?

Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Different City, Same Shtick

Gucci is slowly moving into one-trick-many-dresses pony territory. Even in Paris

 

Gucci SS 2019 P1

You know what they say about familiarity. Yet, Gucci fears not the familiar. Nor, the similar. How does contempt—or boredom—not breed in such same-same-ness? The genius of Gucci is not in generating new designs (although, to be fair, there are new ideas, a live bird among them), but to put those styles already deeply adored by fans in a new setting, better still a different city: Paris, where the fashion world is centred and obsessively watched. And in a nightclub of the past housed in a theatre of the past: Le Palace, where the Parisienne fashion set of the late ’70s, including Karl Lagerfeld; his rival, the late Yves Saint Laurent; as well as Kenzo, partied like their New York counterparts did in Studio 54.

Of course, Alessandro Michele is the master conjurer of the past. You think only Marc Jacobs brings back Yves Saint Laurent? Think again. Mr Michele does it better, and more crazily, more irreverently, as if a hobo has found a discarded trove of YSLs and decided to wear the finds to party at the most decadent club in town because tomorrow is the end of the world. And, true to form, Mr Michele let the geeks and the nerds of every era get their moment too, revenge being the best fashion statement because tomorrow is the end of Instagram. And wasn’t there also a riff on Issey Miyake? Or Chanel, as envisioned by Franco Moschino?

Gucci SS 2019 G1

Mr Michele is also the master impresario of the theatre of fashion. Clothes these days are nothing if there’s no setting, no context, or as they say, story line. Inside a former dance club reputed to be a temple of debauchery, it wasn’t enough to offer the ghosts of the past, an obscure indie film was projected on the walls. Show notes, as reported, included the bio of as-little-known Italian experimental theatre practitioners (the late) Leo de Berardinis and Perla Peragallo, referred to as the Dioscuri (twin brothers of Greek mythology) of Italian “theatre of contradiction”. For seekers of meaning, this veneer of intellectual depth not only explained the opposing forces of the clothes (such as men wearing knickers), but also supported the image of Alessandro Michele as thinker, one who can put Jane Birkin and Dolly Parton on the same stage.

This is not all fluff, in other words, never mind if majority of the women who buy the handbags or shoes probably do not care about the references; this is what makes Gucci refreshing. It is the invisible sidebars that give reason to its singular visual language. When that lingo sounds repetitive or trite, there’s always the far more interesting slang of artifice. When an outfit looks like it has appeared before, add a cockatoo. When Sikh turbans have served their useful controversy, return to the banality of beauty-queen tiaras or the play version. If you like heads, and (3-D printed?) human likeness is no longer shocking, go for Mickey’s—cuteness unusually immune to backlash. If only Mr Michele had lived in Bangkok, he would have known that Thai brands such as Kloset and Senada have resorted to such devices for years!

Gucci SS 2019 G2.jpg

Gucci SS 2019 G3

To appreciate Gucci, we were repeatedly told, is to not nitpick about this and that, but to let these and those be. It appeared to us that Mr Michele designs with one endgame in mind: the show, which, in part, borrowed from Cirque du Soleil. The clothes by themselves wouldn’t be enough because, sans wacky pairings and the nerdy models who wear them, they were just vintage-looking garments fashioned to be lurid, and just not disco-era-lurid, but a gaudiness that maybe only Lynn Yaeger can pull off. Oftentimes, they are quite basic garments on their own, in nicer fabrics and rather enchanting prints. This is beyond Warholian. Mr Michele and his team are more adept at twisting what is standalone ordinariness into something extraordinary by the use of colour—for example, that garish green often seen in silk satin, or by additions such as codpieces to the otherwise unspectacular pants for men. The point is, those trousers will make the sale, but you need an external genital pouch to make the news.

Mr Michele is also a proponent of the anti-fit. This is not the oversized look that has dominate catwalks for quite a few years now. Take look 2, for example, the sailor-dress, which really looked too big because, we guess, it’s meant to be vintage-y, so it won’t flatter the body—you’d have to look like you just left the Salvation Army without trying on your purchases, overwhelmed by the low prices of the finds. Or the shirt of look 25 (worn with pencil skirt—a combo already proposed this past season by Balenciaga and executed with far more refinement), which looked like you wore not your father’s, but your grandfather’s shirt during moments of desperation, like when you’re stuck in a farmhouse after coming in from really bad weather and there’s a slasher out there. Yes, we, too, see the stories, even if inelegantly told.

Photos: Gucci

Gucci Not Good

Gucci AW 2018 P1

Gucci, there’s really nothing more to say about your clothes since there’s little that can be said of your offerings that we have not already expressed before. So, this season, we looked at how your pieces were styled for the catwalk: what (more) theatrics would you succumb to? And, boy, did you not disappoint. High drama made all the more apparent and discernible by your wonderfully bright staging (as opposed to last season’s eye-squinting/straining gloom), so bright that it was actually clinical—operating-theatre clear, as your set was designed to be every (cosmetic?) surgeon’s (or pathologist’s?) pride and delight.

And because all was distinct to see, we could not miss, not for a moment, the daastars—turbans that are unmistakably a physical part of the Sikh identity—placed on the heads of non-Sikhs. If they weren’t attention-grabbing enough, there, too, were hijabs, niqabs, and tudongs, additional headdresses that are traditionally symbols of faith, not fashion (as well as, oddly, what appeared to be a third eye, not perhaps dharmic, but definitely an eye between eyes). If they did not disturb sufficiently, there was the thoughtless (some say “wicked”) and inexplicable pairing of tudong and daatar!

Gucci AW 2018 G1

Frankly, we do not know for sure what Alessandro Michele was thinking at that moment, or moments before that. Or, was he even thinking? We really want to frame this as inspiration, but appropriation comes to mind faster than we could say ‘head wrap’. Why is a daastar (and kindred head wear) important in the communication of a fashion statement? Is it even appropriate given the religious sensitivities/phobia of the present time? Could this be Mr Michele’s version of diversity? Or, are we too serious about something as flippant as accessorising models for a fashion show? Should we just take it as ‘fun’? Can having fun bear no consequences?

Some media reports in the past have noted Mr Michele’s “encyclopedic aesthetic”, but surely even Wikipedea would have informed him of the daastar’s identity to Sikhism, or, that it is men, not women, who wear them. And for sticking to what distinguishes a Sikh male, many have been victims of prejudice and attack, including mistaking daastar wearers for Muslims. It’s fine to live in your own head; it’s not when you trivialise what others put on theirs as identity of self. This, Gucci, isn’t like putting a crown on a head to satisfy some fantasy about royalty or beauty pageants.

Gucci AW 2018 G2

When once, designers depended on make-up and hair styles to augment their seasonal looks, we now have designers making their own wearables (which could then be credited to them, rather than to external collaborators), to replace the artistry of directional make-up (remember the single-line bright eye colours of Raf Simons’s Dior) and hair (remember Julien d’Ys coiffure for Comme des Garçons?). Even wigs and face jewellery are no longer enough.

Are head and face wear, as indicated and seen in nearly every look presented on the Gucci catwalk, really important fashion categories? (Not to mention severed heads!) Or, are the (sometimes outrageous) coverings merely a distracting “newness” to obscure what are essentially again-clownish clothes? The circus association here is deliberate: How else do you explain Mr Michele’s pulling together of the allusions to disparate times, cultures, and religions to yield goofy and OTT looks? Alessandro Michele is the ringmaster of ringmasters. Messrs Dolce and Gabbana, step aside.

Photos: Gucci