Alessandro Michele’s logo is love. “Loved,” “Blind for Love,” “L’aveugle Par Amour”–these words, embroidered on sweatshirts and hightops, are now, thanks to Michele, as recognizably Gucci as horsebit tacks and red and green stripes. It is no exaggeration to say that Michele, who became the creative director in 2015, saved Gucci by bringing his uncynical sense of joy to fashion at a moment when most everything else in our world seemed calculated by the cold levers of influencer marketing. He made it OK to feel love.
And now, on to the subject of death!
For his fourth cruise collection on Wednesday night, Michele embraced a darker side in ways both subtle and extremely obvious. Showing in the ruins of a Roman cemetery, the awe-inspiring Alyscamps in Arles, France, with its promenade of open tombs, certainly falls in the literal category. Most of the 400-some guests arrived at dusk and waited until nightfall, at nearly 10 p.m. at this time of year in France, when the show began with a dramatic spark of fire that burned along a narrow strip from one end of the runway to another, suggesting witchcraft of a ritualistic ceremony. Many viewers at home, commenting on the images that began appearing on social media, described the scene as spooky or eerie.
In person, it was a thrilling sight to behold. While setting a fashion show in a cemetery sounds like a recipe for a PR disaster, this was, in fact, a well-considered location, informed by centuries of history, multiple cultural perspectives on death, and the uses of a necropolis. In the 1700s, for example, it was considered quite fashionable to stroll the promenade of Alyscamps. (For anyone wondering, Gucci made note of its financial contributions to support the heritage of Arles, as it has in other cities where the company staged cruise or resort collections.) And it would seem that for Michele, death is not all that it seems.
As is his custom to combine and link multiple layers of seemingly unrelated references throughout his work, the designer here sought to create a through line about funereal beauty, particularly in elements of rituals and celebrations. In one example, a skeletal embroidery on the front of a gown referred directly to ossuaries and the crypts of cardinals or 15th century monks and their precious decorations, “this idea is that everything that is linked to the afterlife is accompanied by something of maximum beauty,” Michele said in a note posted to Instagram. Among the parade of models who walked a runway that was literally on fire were reanimated aristocrats, widows, rockers, and other oddities arriving from all points of time and place, as if in a séance. The smoke and darkness were punctuated with moments when a particular detail came into focus—a model with his face covered in a stocking, with eyes bejeweled like a death mask; a lost soul carrying a teddy bear; bouquets of decaying flowers.
It also happens, as mentioned, that some of the references to death were very subtle. It was unlikely by coincidence that Wednesday night marked a full moon, and a particularly significant one if you follow astrology. The Flower Moon, the sixth full moon of the year, is symbolic of the transition of seasons, a time for renewal, and here it shone over Gucci’s runway, where Christian Lacroix, Saoirse Ronan, A$AP Rocky, Elton John, and all the other followers of Michele watched in rapt attention. Weeks before the show, guests received invitations at the homes by an old-fashioned telegram, but few would have known that before modern technology existed, the telegram was a primary means of communicating notices of death. Like a chef, Michele adds layer upon layer of ingredients until he reaches a stew where no one flavor is immediately recognizable, and yet all are there to be savored.
Of course, you may be wondering by now about the individual clothes, and there is no doubt Gucci lovers will find many favorites to choose, for this was one of Michele’s most appealing shows yet. Here is just part of my laundry list: a fantastic black gown with an oversize white-collar applique spilling off one shoulder, a maxi dress with a skirt of tiered baby floral Victoriana prints, men’s sneakers made to look dirty and worn out, that teddy bear (what was that?), a royal blue velvet cape and a bouquet carried like a sceptre, all of the suits, Gucci-logo backpacks with slippers stuffed in the pockets, the dress with a bejeweled ribcage attached (shout out to Alexander McQueen), the fringed pants and pullovers, the luxe tri-color coat with trimmed with silver sequined ribbons …
… Oh, I do hope I’m not boring you to death! Before I expire out of sheer delight, a brief note on this season’s collaborations, also excellent. These included fantastic sweaters and bags (one marked Laundry) bearing the logo of the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, where, also unlikely by coincidence, several celebrities have either died or ended their careers. Major League Baseball and Sega logos made return appearances, while another highlight was an introduction of the three little pigs from Disney as a patch on a T-shirt.
It goes to Michele’s credibility as a designer that even death becomes him. In spite of the sepulchral references, there was no sense of despair, nor one drop of cynicism. And at the end of night, Michele took to a stage to introduce a performance by Elton John, in advance of his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour, which is expected to include more than 300 shows over the next three years. At least. You see, in the land of Michele’s Gucci, there really is no end in sight.