Milan Fashion Week: Back to Basics for Gucci's Alessandro Michele

by Lauren Cochrane, The Guardian, January 20, 2015

This time last year, even the most devoted fashion insider might have responded with a blank stare at any mention of the name Alessandro Michele – but what a difference a year makes.

Michele is now the creative director at Gucci. He dresses Harry Styles and Alexa Chung, produces feted advertising campaigns with peacocks as accessories, and won best international designer at the British fashion awards last year.

Influencing other designers’ collections more than they might care to admit, it’s not overstating the case to say that even in the hyperbolic world of fashion, the long-haired, bearded 43-year-old is something of a messiah.

Related: Prada delivers best collection in several seasons at Milan fashion week

A ‘playfully subversive’ knitted hat

A ‘playfully subversive’ knitted hat Photograph: Antonio Calanni/AP

Michele’s third menswear collection on Monday afternoon was the most anticipated of the Milan schedule this season. The assembled press – some dressed in full Michele looks, including fur-lined backless loafers – sat on mismatched bamboo chairs and velvet sofas, practically bursting to see how he had evolved the geeky, androgynous glamour that set the fashion agenda in 2015.

The answer came in a collection packed to the gills not only with ideas but also clothes. Western style, chinoiserie and thrift-store chic were all explored, with ten-gallon hats, nudie-style suits, embroidered pyjamas and loud retro knitwear thrown in.


Embellishment dominated the runway.

Embellishment dominated the runway. Photograph: Pietro D'aprano/Getty

There were diamanté slides in hair, Jarvis Cocker-style glasses, pearls studding the heels of loafers (sure to be the cult shoe next season), and socks pulled up to mid-calf. Fun elements came in Snoopy T-shirts and knitted hats with ears. Cute on a toddler, the effect was odd and playfully subversive on a grown man.

It was this balance that the best pieces in the collection played on. The now-familiar ground of the 70s more-is-more looks – frilled blouses, those loafers, retro knits – would no doubt preach to the converted Gucci fanbase. But it was the simpler pieces – closer to how Michele himself dresses – that moved things on.


One of Michele’s embroidered, nudie-style jackets

One of Michele’s embroidered, nudie-style jackets. Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

While a pair of cropped blue bootcut trousers and a white T-shirt doesn’t sound that exciting when compared to a man wearing a teddy bear-covered cardigan, a blouse and carrying a suitcase, the reduction of the “Michele look” to its bare essentials was striking.

Block-coloured tailoring in blues, greens and yellows was tweaked with crumples in the trousers, to add a vintage-store wonkiness to Gucci’s jetset heritage. These were definitely purposeful – a billion-euro business does not forget to iron models’ trousers before a fashion show.

Block-coloured tailoring.

Block-coloured tailoring. Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

While the show notes consisted of a highbrow explanation referencing philosopher Walter Benjamin’s ideas around memory and the past, and “sparks able to build constellations rich with future in which past meets present”, Michele himself was at least a little less academic backstage.

Describing his work as “a collage”, he said Gucci is “the biggest fragment, of my 70s memory”. This collection was inspired by the work of Walter Albini, the colourful Italian designer who had his heyday in the same decade, and a more louche idea of men’s style. With this as a starting-point Michele said creating a collection was “like writing a novel – you start but you don’t know where you end up”.

Parent company Kering will be hoping he has a keen grasp of the commercial plot. Gucci is the most valuable brand in a conglomerate that also owns Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta.


A ten-gallon hat by Gucci at Milan’s fashion week

A ten-gallon hat by Gucci at Milan’s fashion week. Photograph: Daniel Dal Zennaro/EPA

It is valued at £3.26bn. As such, the stakes are high for Michele, and the faith of Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault is strong. Sales, falling during Frida Giannini’s time, fell 0.4% in the third quarter of 2015, but are expected to rise this year, if the Michele gamble pays off.

Orders for the spring 2016 collection increased by double digits. In an interview with WWD, Pinault suggested this is just the beginning for the brand. “The implementation of our action plan for Gucci is moving forward,” he said.

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This article was written by Lauren Cochrane from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.