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.

US$12 Dollars For A Pair Of Gucci Sneakers?

What you pay is real, what you get is virtual

By Shu Xie

Are you so desperate to own a pair of normally expensive Gucci kicks that you are willing to part USD12 (approximately S$16) for a Net version? It seems many are. Or, Gucci seems to think so. They have just ‘launched’ virtual sneakers so that you can wear them on your digital hooves for slightly less than, as I discovered, the McDonald’s 2X Sausage McGriddles with Egg Extra Value Meal (+ French Fries). The avatar fashion for feet, even if un-pedicured. And you can then post the superimposed sneakers on your social media pages and appear as if you’ve been to a Gucci store and bought a pair yourself, at a mere fraction of the boutique price. There must be some draw in that?

Yet, I don’t understand the potential appeal of these untouchable digital-only sneakers. Maybe I am just not aware that Gucci is now truly the first love of geeks and increasingly discovered by gamers (no longer unique to Burberry?). The shoes—just one style—look to me like they might have been designed by the programmers behind Neon Tiles Space Hop. Called Gucci Virtual 25 (apparently Michele Alessandro’s fave number), they probably look fetching on Buzz Lightyear too. You put them on as you would an AR face filter, but instead of rabbit ears, you get Gucci kicks.

The key feature of the sneaker appears to be the double-G logo-ed bottle cap-like dial just above the laces (you can’t miss it) that presumably allows the wearer to auto-lace up. This bears no resemblance to the US-born BOA Fit System, which saw New Balance among the early adopters back in 2017. Everything about the virtual shoe just looks cartoonish, and likely more so on 4K-filmed feet!

Gucci has, of course, embraced everything virtual enthusiastically. Not content with dressing the characters on Zepeto (including footwear), they want to help us get virtually shod. And throughout our digital life (do we now participate in Zoom meetings with our feet up?). Our online appearance at feet level must be so slack that Gucci sees a money-making opportunity to improve the appearance of our chosen footwear. Surely, they’re better off at creating finer-looking real shoes than making those that exist in apps or in the cloud?

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Screen grab: Gucci app

Millennials Made Gucci

At the Grammy Awards, Billie Eilish and Harry Styles surprised no one when they turned up in full Gucci, illustrating, again, boys and girls their age group love the flashy Italian brand

Billie Eilish and Harry Styles in unmistakable Gucci outfits. Photos: Getty Images

The head-to-toe look is the to way dress among many of today’s young pop stars. And dedication to a single brand is the ideal. The easiest way to be camera-ready, we suppose. Just look at two of the biggest entertainers at the recent Grammys: Billie Eilish and the dress wearer Harry Styles. They were both outfitted by Gucci, down to, in the case of Ms Eilish, the bucket hat, face mask, and fingerless gloves, and, in the case of Mr Styles, the Mae West-worthy feather boa. It was as if they had turned over the entire exercise of dressing to a fashion house. Their own wardrobes non-existent, or redundant. Of course, most stars don’t look at their existing armoire anymore. They go with what fashion houses present to them, and if the final look is missing something—anything, there’s always the atelier’s sewers to custom-make. If they can sew a dress, they can sew a face mask. It’s all—as you can see (or maybe not)—very orchestrated.

This sounds very much like how they managed movie stars during the heydays of Hollywood. Only now, the current stars aren’t told how they are to be styled, or how to behave, or who to be seen with that is deemed suitable. The more anti-whatever they look, the better. And even more preferable, be linked to a brand (or a few). Bring your own take to how the sponsor wants you to look, it says to us. Billie Eilish certainly has. Until she dons Gucci the way she has been, no one thought the brand once associated with extreme sexiness under Tom Ford’s watch could be so bo chap baggy. She is not, as far as we’re aware, Gucci’s brand ambassador, unlike Harry Styles. She has more aesthetic room to navigate. Mr Styles is a Gucci model, appearing in their ads and video presentations; he is expected to embrace the brand wholesale, with a tad of pop-star insouciance.

…the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”

Expectedly, their followers too. It is debatable if Mr Styles and Ms Eilish are leading the pack or wearing what others of their generation are wearing. Interestingly, if you combine, as we had, the first and second parts of their family names respectively, you would get “Stylish”. That’s enough to automatically grant them the upper hand as leaders than followers. To the many young fans who are enamoured with Gucci and can only feel confident—or validated—when they wear the label on their backs (or on their chest), the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”, a marketing advantage and a sure crowd-puller. Together with their fans and followers, the Stylish stars have made Gucci the bubbling brand of the millennials, a group the Financial Times identified in 2018 as “the world’s most powerful consumers.”

Although Gucci reported a drop in global sales during their earnings report in February, they have, in fact, enjoyed startling growth for years and had been the growth accelerator of parent company Kering. Annual revenues reported in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, was an impressive 10 billion euros. Their success has been linked to how appealing Gucci is to millennial consumers, under 35. Technology that resonates with this savvy group (as well as teaming up with digital games such as Zepeto) is part of their multi-prong strategy. The products, across categories, are calibrated to offer millennials born-again retro looks that are new to them, as well as the chances to experience what they could not ever have: past goofiness transmuted as present geekiness. The whole visual context of Gucci is companionably banal. To better suit the phenomenon and practice—sharing, and to fabulously costume colourful online life.

Upside Down You Turn Me

When glasses can’t be left right side up

By Mao Shan Wang

It’s a topsy-turvy world, that much I know. But, I’m not head over heels for it. In case I and those of you who share my feelings are in doubt that the world is disarranged, Gucci has released a pair of glasses with cat-eye frames, set upside down! Okay, I am sure there are those out there who can’t wait for gravity to do its work on their eyes, and would wear these to hasten the effect, but seriously, my peepers are not—or ever will be—ready to be this droopy. Or, to look like I’m suffering from a severe case of two-side ptosis. Even my grandmother, with cognitive decline, wouldn’t wear her glasses the wrong side up.

That this pair of glasses needs to be flipped so as to make an upright statement about style perhaps indicates that we have come to a stage of existence when the virus of the year has somehow affected our creative judgment. Gucci calls this pair “inverted cat eye sunglasses”. How about the bottom half of butterfly wings? It is not clear why Gucci chose inversion. Did someone leave a regular pair upside-down on a table, and the design team decided it was great and “an unconventional take on the ’50s and ’60s inspired cat eye frames” that could win the heart of fans? Have they not considered how sad the whole face looks with the glasses worn?

Sometimes I feel fashion is at the stage where being different for the sake of being different has taken precedence over not looking bonkers. Even if I choose appearing unbalanced, I am stable enough to know that I won’t spend this amount—more than S$1,000 (RRP: US$755)—to suggest that the corners of my eyes are heading south with accordance to the shape of my eyewear. And since, the lenses of the sunglasses are not the least dark, there is no way I can use it as a disguise. Or, to blend in with the rest of the shades-wearing crowd. Or, to simply look cool. Perhaps looking uncool is the game plan. I wonder then how little inverted cat eyes will look perched on a face mask?

Photo: Gucci

Oh, Harry

So a man can’t appear on the cover of Vogue without wearing a dress?

By Ray Zhang

American Vogue is taking diversity seriously. Two covers back to back with black stars—Lizzo in October and Naomi Campbell in November—and then, on the December issue’s, the first-ever solo male in their 127-year history: Harry Styles. A guy as part of Vogue’s cover has been done before. There was, as I recall, LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen in 2008, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian in 2014, Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid in 2017, and Justin Beiber and Hailey Baldwin in 2019. But Mr Styles up there all by himself—that’s clearly not done before. Looks like tumultuous 2020 has really got Vogue thinking and doing.

Harry Styles has style (or, as his second name suggests, styles), we’re constantly reminded by the media, and non-binary at that. It seems to me that Vogue is also telling us that Mr Styles has what it takes to appear unaccompanied on its cover: the willingness to don a dress. The others before him sure did not. Mr James was in a basketball tank top, Mr West in a blazer, Mr Malik was all suited up, Mr Beiber wore only his tattoos. Fashion was the responsibility of the women. Even Mr Malik, still the most dressed-up among them, was somewhat obscured by his then girlfriend (now mother of his child), although the cover blurb was certain to tell us that they “shop each other’s closets”. And if you were still in doubt, the editorial feature informed you that the couple was “part of a new generation who don’t see fashion as gendered.”

In the old days of fashion magazines, covers gave women a reason to buy an outfit that was deemed fashionable, or a look that might inspire, for example, those who sew their own clothes. I am not sure if any woman might rush out to buy the Gucci dress that the former member of One Direction wears on this Vogue cover, as they were once inclined to in, say, 1988, or 10 years later (more recently?), when this now forgotten name, Carrie Bradshaw, said, “…sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more.” The traditional (okay, that’s not the new normal) cover hopes that women might actually cop a cover outfit after seeing it. I’d be fed, somewhat, to know if it’d be the same with this one.

I feel Vogue didn’t quite go all the way with Harry Styles. Both Lizzo and Naomi Campbell were shot full-length: We saw the whole dress. The photograph of Mr Styles, who reportedly identify as cisgender, was, conversely, cropped, and we witness only the upper body in vague half-drag. At a glance, we might not have guessed that the singer/actor wears a dress. I mean, it could have been a tunic, such as a thawb, but with a smocked upper body and lace-trimmed neckline. Would Alain de Botton-quoting Mr Styles—Beng as he appears to me—look just as fetching as the other two cover girls if he were captured with the dress in full length, which, as one photograph in the editorial feature did show, was a frilly, tiered tulle gown Mae West might have worn in her day?

The sight of a man in a dress, long or short, is not quite that unusual in the age of repeated Billy Porter flaunts. Never mind the muscularity of MAGA maleness. As one fashion observant friend said to me just this morning, “(the cover) is quite unremarkable. Men in women’s clothing for fashion shoots, gender-bending etc, etc—quite done to death. W’s editorials have been doing it for a few years. UK magazines, too.” In fact, frock wearing among pop stars—not just for magazine features—go as far back as David Bowie who, in the ’70s, wore what he called the “man-dress” (Michael Fish was a favourite designer). Yet, Vogue chose to go easy on the eyes of their readers, which is immensely ironic if you consider how religious in their zeal Americans have been in pushing for obvious inclusiveness.

If appearing on the cover of Vogue is a career high for many models, actresses, and reality TV stars, it could be one, too, for Mr Styles. Could he still be a cover boy sans dress? This has not been a great year for many of us. The singer, too, had it hard: the postponed world tour, the halted filming of the Olivia Wilde-directed film, Don’t Worry Darling, and the more mundane lockdown. While he admitted in the Vogue article to wearing mostly sweatpants when confined at home, he has not, as with so many less well-placed individuals also WFH, cast fashion aside. He has, in fact, embraced it in all its myriad forms. I’m all for guys to blur the lines of fashion—heck, even erase them—but Mr Styles, a Gucci model and their willing rep, doing so is really instinctive than disruptive. On the cover of Vogue, Harry Styles in a dress is not ground-breaking. If it were Jason Statham, that would be.

Photos: Tyler Mitchell/Vogue

Dock At TikTok

Luxury brands have berthed at the port of the social media phenomenon with mostly just goofy content

TikTok is banned in India. It could suffer the same fate in the US soon. (Indonesia temporarily banned it in 2018 for “inappropriate content”.) Yet, luxury brands are eagerly adopting TikTok as if their survival depends on it. Among the latest to join the video-centric site are Louis Vuitton, Dior, Gucci (above), and Fendi. Fashion’s top labels, it appears, are under considerable marketing pressure to be on a platform that is not immediately easy to fathom.

The content on TikTok is unlike anything seen on (old) social media. Created in 2016, it has taken the world by typhoon-strength storm. In a nutshell, TikTok is Instagram for videos. But these aren’t videos seen on YouTube (at 15, a much senior media); these are short takes of virtually anything inane and incomprehensibly foolish, yet the app has been described as a “a refreshing outlier in the social media universe”. So much that are posted are repetitive, it’s hard, even after a mere few days, to consider anything viewed to be “refreshing”. While Instagram is to tell you everyone is having a fabulous life, TikTok is to show you everyone is having incredible fun.

And having fun is mostly rubbing babies’ faces to create cute expressions, playing stupid and staged pranks, and creating more noisy fart jokes than you care to watch (or hear). People, both young (and now old), post unbelievably trite content: from an egg being boiled to clothes being soiled, from unremarkable yawns to unfunny jokes, from ludicrous nothing to loony dancing. What’s irascible, after even just five minutes, are the inevitable canned laughter and cheesy electronic soundtrack (even Shopee TV ads look and sound like TikTok posts!). Amid all these, fashion brands are carving out their own space alongside those users pushing for incredible foolishness.

TikTok fans, similarly, call all of it fun. Gucci’s videos, with suitably attired characters, play to this worldwide search for amusement and absurdity. Or, as one Quora user called the posts, “dumb shit”—the sillier the video, the more likely it’ll go viral. How does fashion fit in this swill? Frankly, we don’t know. So much on TikTok appear slapdash and low-brow. As content quality go, it’s cheaper to create a TikTok video than a fashion film. And scripts are optional.

We keep being told that TikTok allows us a peek into ordinary teenagers’ lives. So Gucci and co are now marketing to adolescents? The brand’s own madcap style may fit TikTok’s ting-tong-ness, but flatulence-loving kids are not likely a good target for S$600+ T-shirts or S$1,000+ sneakers. Marketers observed that TikTok is a break from the increasingly commercial space of Facebook and Instagram. However, when you start to sell on TikTok, you are making the site another digital marketplace. Let’s see Chanel peddle its wares by putting a teen in a bouclé jacket and do a happy dance.

Screen grabs: Gucci/TikTok

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

 

Gucci SS 2021 P1

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.”

Gucci SS 2021 P2

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.

Gucci SS 2021 P3

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.

Gucci SS 2021 P4

Gucci SS 2021 P5

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

No Turning Back

In the post-COVID-19 world, fashion can’t return to what it was. Dries Van Noten led the clarion for change by first issuing an open letter to address concerns about the future of the industry. Now, moving forward, another group is calling for the resolve of “rewiring fashion” as lockdown throughout the world eases. Will they be heard? Has the fashion business become too crumpled to be ironed out of its creases?

 

20-05-18-20-12-41-643_deco

By Raiment Young

Fashion has fallen on hard times. And before it crashes through the cutting room floor, many in the industry are calling for the change that was previously talked about, but not met with actual action. Last week, Dries Van Noten, leading a group that includes fellow designers Tory Burch, Erdem Moralioglu, as well as Acne Studio CEO Mattias Magnusson, Bergdorf Goodman’s Linda Fargo and others, initiated the call with an Open Letter to the Fashion Industry that said “the current environment, although challenging, presents an opportunity for a fundamental and welcome change that will simplify our businesses, making them more environmentally and socially sustainable and ultimately align them more closely with customers’ needs.”

It went on to propose “adjusting the seasonality and flow of both womenswear and menswear goods, starting with the Autumn/Winter 2020 season (which was already shown in February/March and January respectively)”. The recommendation asked for selling seasons to be “put back” to the time frame followed in the past—fall/winter in August—January and spring/summer in February—July. In addition, it urged for a “more balanced flow of deliveries through the season to provide newness but also time for products to create desire”. And discounting provided only at the end of the season so as to “allow for more full-price selling”.

In sync with the call for long-term socio-ecological balance in fashion, the letter-writers also advocated “increase sustainability throughout the supply chain and sales calendar” by producing “less unnecessary products”, adopting “less travel”, and reviewing the traditional fashion show format. These are all pertinent proposals that have been brought up in the past, especially among brands that have not been able to enjoy the production resources and marketing might of bigger names or those who are managed by conglomerates. It is, however, the first time they’re communicated so succinctly and purposefully in one missive, signed off by noted industry figures.

Signatories of open letterSome of the signatories of the Open Letter: (from left)  Acne Studios CEO Mattias Magnusson, Bergdorf Goodman’s Linda Fargo, Dries Van Noten, Tory Burch, Erdem Moralioglu. Individual photos: source

Shortly after the Open Letter was announced, another group headlined by Phillip Lim, Rodarte, and Proenza Schouler put together the plan, Rewire Fashion, which was soon followed by its own independent micro-site. “Facilitated by” the industry news portal Business of Fashion (BOF), Rewire Fashion is like one group seconding the proposals of another, while going into more details by identifying the problems and offering possible solutions, with very specific call out to fashion show pressures: “that there should be no rules—imposed by convention or fashion councils—regarding the format of shows, nor any expectations that every brand should show every season”, as well as fashion retailers’ deeply-rooted “addiction” to the very modern proclivity of “extreme discounting”.

These are proposals that have no doubt been brewing for a while. However necessary the changes put forward, it may be difficult to undo the forces and practices put into momentum by powerful corporate hands for a long time. In fact, some habits are so entrenched in the fashion consumption culture of today that halting them would be just like asking the community not to consume. Take discounting: many have been weaned on buying not regular retail prices that even if the full-price selling season could be restored, most would just wait out till the end-of-season sale. The reality of fashion is that few seasonal items are so desirable that they can’t wait to be bought three months or so later.

If brands are telling consumers that early and immoderate discounting must not be encouraged, why are consumers not able to sway brands from reducing the frequency of or holding back price hikes, especially at a time when it would be unseemly to do so?

 

With most brands and businesses facing overstock issues this season and likely the next, or even further down the road, discounting may be a necessary evil for a while and for the duration shoppers need to get accustomed to the next new-normal. The question we find ourselves asking in response to mark downs is on the other side of the practice—mark ups. If brands are telling consumers by way of retailers that early and immoderate discounting must not be encouraged (so don’t get used to them), why are consumers not able to sway brands from reducing the frequency of or holding back price hikes, especially at a time when it would be unseemly to do so? Prices climb from an already steep leap-off point. A S$560 Gucci T-shirt that could pass off as a Uniqlo offering don’t merit a discount before purchase consideration? How many, indeed, truly shop at full price? Even members of the fashion media don’t, not when they have the unsaid but well-enjoyed privilege of press or influencer discount.

Prices of designer fashion have reached such prohibitive levels this past decade that they are driving the engine of growth of the resale market. Just look at Japan, not only is second-hand fashion a massive and expanding business, major players—they have, in fact, become chain stores—such as Ragtag have a flagship that can be as large, if not larger, than even the European brands’. What makes these Japanese resale stops the go-to among both locals and tourists is the quality of the merchandise. More often than not, they are well curated and are as good as new. And fashionable individuals know they don’t need on-season clothes to look on trend. And it does not take a fashion observer with an acute sense to see that fashion is not just the desire of the wealthy. The presence of “entry-level” goods in every luxury store is clear indication that most brands offer products beyond the reach of more than 50 percent of those in the queue to get in, to the extent that entry-level is necessary to spur growth. For those who would not be mindlessly ensnared, there are resale vendors, where, for the price of one boutique’s entry-level, they are able to score the secondhand outlet’s sartorial grail.

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Fashion consumption these days may be somewhat homogeneous—the love of Dior dresses is as intense anywhere on the globe—but the time/period/season they are needed may vary. Take Asia, for example. It is widely acknowledged that China is the world’s main driver of spending on the high-end. According to McKinsey’s China Luxury Report 2019, “Chinese consumers at home and abroad spent 770 billion RMB (or 115 billion USD) on luxury items” in 2018. This is “equivalent to a third of the global spend”. If you include the rest of Asia, that would rank this continent the largest market for luxury goods. Many in this part of the world follow the lunar calendar, which makes, among other occasions, the Lunar New Year (or Spring Festival) an important date and celebration. All brands know the importance of tapping into pre-festival spending, so they release the first drop of spring/summer in December (even in November). If, according to both groups’ proposal of deliveries to match seasons, will many—in particular Southeast Asians—be shopping for Spring Festival by browsing the autumn/winter rack?

It is not yet certain how a motley gathering of fashion practitioners that include designers, buyers, and executives will be able to see the proposals through. So far, it has been a call to action, not quite a concrete plan hot-stamped on leather or fused on silk. After the past months of fashion retail standstill, the journey forward is expected to be fraught with yet-to-be experienced uncertainties and pitfalls. We’re all for change—that’s fashion’s DNA. But after extended periods of staying at home, where fashion is, at best, asleep, most consumers may be counting what they have not worn (yet?) than thinking if autumn/winter deliveries will be in time for a splurge on more clothes or bags that have done delivery schedules justice and the supply chains proud.

Illustrations: Just So

You Spin Me

As usual, Gucci takes us on a dizzying twirl

 

Gucci AW 2020 P1

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

Billie Eilish: Future of Youth Fashion?

If the Bad Guy singer was not at the Grammys, she might have been a resident of Suzhou, an eighteen-year-old punk-auntie taking a walk in the city in jammies

 

Billie Eilish Grammys

Billie Eilish, it’s not enough that you won four Grammys, you had to turn up in that outfit. You had to align yourself with Gucci; you had to get them to make you a set of pyjamas to strut the red carpet. In fact, head-to-nail-to-toe Gucci. Sure, we get it: this is a luxury take on what you’re used to. And yes, Gucci’s fastest-growing slice of the business is consumers like you: 24 and under—what marketeers call Gen Z. We get it. You have made some unconventional musical choices, why did you make a conventional fashion pick? We don’t mean just the get-up; we mean the brand too. Seriously, how much more anti-fit clothes do we need to see, how many more logos-as-repeated-patterns?

You’re known to wear figure-obscuring clothes, but we didn’t think that you’d don your dad’s nightwear to the Grammys. Or, obnubilate what were later revealed to be not unattractive eyes and mouth, from which you had sung so captivatingly. We know you like to dress to avoid being tagged babe or sexy. We know. But must modesty be this covered-up? Must not-following-the-contours-of-the-body be this baggy? Must taking attention off the female form be this androgynous?

Sure, it’s different, what you’re doing/wearing/showing. You don’t have Lisso’s heft to need to prove that sexiness can come in other shapes. You don’t have Ariana Grande’s pony tail to show that cute can negate curly, flowing locks. You don’t have Lana Del Rey’s retro vibe to wear things in a certain way and, as a result, look not of the present. But, you don’t have to obscure your youth to downplay it or diminish it. You don’t have to succumb to the persistent convention that ugly can be pretty.

As a performer, you’re compelling to watch. In the Bad Guy MV, it is a joy to see you prance about—the infectious synths and bass so divorced from your soft, almost whispery near-monotone vocals that soundtrack your don’t-give-a-damn play with the camera. You bring to mind Janis Ian (Mean Girls), but you make her look lame. Even your yellow hoodie and jogger make The Bride’s (Kill Bill) similarly hued track suit pale in comparison. It helps that all the while, you sing that you’re the “make-your-girlfriend-mad type/might-seduce-your-dad type.” In baggy clothes? What sexual powers are hidden in them?

Your debut album, last year’s beautiful oddity When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? include the standout track, the seductive/hummable/tender Everything I Wanted, which sounds like it is in the process of being written… in a corner of a dance club… with the EDM in the background. Or, something Miley Cyrus probably wished she had composed. In the accompanying self-directed MV that seems like a snap of a suicide attempt, you sing mostly in an ominously dark car. Your clothes cannot be discerned; they may not even be there. We saw only your anguished face. Fashion doesn’t matter. Billie Eilish, you’re no Taylor Swift. Thank goodness for that.

Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images