Since the creative director took over the helm in 2015, he has led the house’s renaissance with such a myriad of diverse collaborations – spanning from artists and cartoon characters to storied brands such as Major League Baseball, Paramount, Sega and The North Face – that the question for every new collection is: Who’s next?
Partnering a fashion house would be a bold, truly progressive step to move the needle when fashion is opening up to more meetings of the minds – remember when Dries Van Noten enriched his Spring/Summer 2020 collection with the signature exuberance and opulence of legendary couturier Christian Lacroix? More recently, Prada’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection marked the debut of co-creative directorship between founder Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons.
Michele keeps these creative conversations between fashion’s leading lights going when he proved rumours right. Familiar Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga tropes (there’s the slinky, skintight pantashoe with a draped peplum top à la Look 21 circa Spring/Summer 2017, but tagged with Gucci’s green and red Web stripe and GG monogram, and a baseball cap marked “100”) appear before co-branded pieces confirmed what Michele prefers to call “a hacking” (not a collaboration), as he “plundered the nonconfirmist rigour of Demna Gvasalia”. Why Balenciaga? As new-gen successors in storied houses, Michele shared a kinship with Gvasalia. “We’re both thieves of everything, in different ways but it belongs to both of us,” he shared with Tim Blanks (Business of Fashion). The 104-year-old Paris-based couture atelier is a Kering mate, dominating the second spot of Lyst Index (a quarterly ranking of fashion’s hottest brands) as Gucci reigns at the top.
Love it or not, this divisive hook-up should not overshadow the significance of the Aria collection where Michele rings in Gucci’s 100th birthday by celebrating the power of the brand. Let’s look at eight other highlights of the show.
Synonymous with freedom of expression, Michele’s love of words spawned Aria’s invite in the form of a fun booklet of puzzles, crosswords and brain teasers revolving around the brand heritage. It’s no child’s play – Gucci had the support of Keesing PRS Italia, the biggest braintainment company in Europe that produces puzzle books online games, and with Domenica Quiz, an Italian weekly puzzle magazine, to conceptualise with this playful publication.
After imaginative pandemic-induced presentations – first, a 12-hour livestream that goes behind the scenes of the advertising campaign spotlighting his team of designers modelling the looks they worked on, then a GucciFest miniseries featuring an unexpected cast of talents – Michele returns to the runway. Coupled with the glitz of the catwalk lined with flashing lights and vintage cameras snapping away from photo pit, he unveils his first collection in the centenary year of the house via a ’90s-style pop video he co-directed with Italian-Canadian Floria Sigismondi, whose MTV resumé runs from David Bowie to Dua Lipa.
There are two meanings behind the name of the 94-look collection. In Italian, the word is translated to “air”, as well as “melody”, specifically a self-contained music piece for a solo voice in an opera. Sigismondi interprets the word as the idea of taking a breath of fresh air, with Michele bringing back the glamorous side of fashion in precarious times. On the other hand,
Michele opines that the aria is the most popular part of the opera, a notion manifested in this collection encapsulating Gucci’s greatest hits that include nods to his predecessor Tom Ford. In particular, Ford’s red velvet tuxedo opened the show. Model Trish Goff first donned the suit on the Autumn/Winter 1996 runway before Gwyneth Paltrow wore it to the MTV Music Awards. This Spring/Summer 2021 rendition updates the tux with pronounced shoulders, a leather harness for a kinky take, as well as versions for both men and women.
Tracing Gucci’s roots, the video takes us to the starting point, The Savoy in London. It was in this historic luxury hotel, built in 1889, where Florentine founder Guccio Gucci hatched the idea to launch his leather luggage business when he worked as a liftboy. Michele also peppered this reference throughout the collection with “Savoy Club” emblazoned on riding helmets and little heart-shaped bags.
Michele’s exploration of the brand’s beginnings led him to Gucci’s equestrian heritage, sending riding helmets, boots, harnesses and whips with a fetishistic spin down the runway. Other time-honoured signatures that shared the limelight include icons such as the Bamboo details, GG monogram, the Horsebit and the Flora motif that Rodolfo Gucci (Guccio Gucci’s son) commissioned illustrator Vittorio Accornero to design for Grace Kelly, then Princess Grace of Monaco, in 1966.
Illuminating the centennial collection are pieces from Hortus Deliciarum, Gucci’s high jewellery collection. This exclusive preview reveals Michele’s punkish take on luxury with extravagant doorknocker-ish septum rings.
As though Aria is his love letter to Gucci, Michele makes his affections known with anatomical heart-shaped minaudière, some embellished with a generous sprinkle of crystals.
There’s no better way to demonstrate the brand’s staying power than its presence in pop culture. Pumping up the volume is a selection of songs featuring the word “Gucci” (picked from a buffet of more than 20,000) and mixed by Sigismondi’s husband, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Lawrence Rothman.
Happy 100, Gucci!
(All images: Gucci)