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When Alessandro Michele Reinvented Gucci – WWD

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When Alessandro Michele Reinvented Gucci – WWD

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MILAN — In January five years ago, the first time Alessandro Michele took a bow at the end of Gucci’s men’s fall 2015 show, surrounded by the brand’s design team, WWD wrote it felt like the first day of school.

With that seminal show, Michele, who would officially be anointed with the creative director title two days later, began to reinvent Gucci with a completely new, quirky and androgynous aesthetic that toppled his predecessor Frida Giannini’s jet-set lifestyle image.

Quickly assembled in only a few days, following the sudden exit of Giannini a week earlier, that men’s fall 2015 collection sowed the seeds of Michele’s style, which would help return Gucci to the fashion forefront, cater to a younger customer and post growth exceeding 35 percent for five consecutive quarters by the first quarter of 2018, prompting president and chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri to set a 10 billion euro revenue target for the brand in June that year.

The first look out on the runway — another surprise as it was an industrial grate, never seen at a Gucci show — said it all. All eyes were on an ephebic man with long wispy hair wearing a silk, red pussy bow blouse and beach sandals with a furry vamp, his fingers brimming with signet rings — a reflection of Michele’s own hands.

Voilà. A trend was launched. Michele’s gender-fluid and romantic spirit would go on to influence a slew of other designers, and fast-fashion giants jumped on the bandwagon quicker than you could say Jack Robinson.

Officially, Michele’s first solo collection bowed a month later, with Gucci’s women’s fall 2015 collection, which solidified his vision as he paraded bohemian flower child dresses, shrunken proportions, and school teacher skirts.

However, the designer was smart not to throw everything to the wind, as he revisited Gucci’s iconic GG logo, canvas bags and horse-bit loafers, which he turned into fur-lined slippers and clogs, further fueling sales of the accessories division — historically a cash cow for the brand. After all, Michele was previously head accessories designer and Giannini’s deputy. Logo bags came hand-painted with flowers or embroidered with big insects — a theme dear to Michele, who continued to explore it over the seasons.

At the time, Bizzarri, who took on his role at Gucci on Jan. 1, 2015, told WWD that elevating Michele to the post of creative director was “looking from outside, not the most obvious choice,” but that he was “exactly the right person” for that position, tasked with halting Gucci’s then-performance declines. With his arrival, the focus shifted from archival iconography to pure fashion.

Michele joined the Gucci design studio in 2002 following a stint as senior accessories designer at Fendi. He was appointed “associate” to Giannini in 2011, and in 2014 took on the additional responsibility of creative director of Richard Ginori, the porcelain brand acquired by Gucci in 2013.

Five years after his debut at Gucci, in the midst of a global pandemic, Michele has abandoned what he has called “the worn-out ritual of seasonalities and shows to regain a new cadence, closer to my expressive call. We will meet just twice a year, to share the chapters of a new story.”

Conceiving new names for the collections and inspired by the music world, Michele today will present what would have traditionally been called a cruise collection and that is now dubbed “Epilogue.” Once again, he said, he wanted to “overturn things” and present a story with the people from his office instead of models, a project that includes a 12-hour livestream.

As reported, Epilogue is the conclusive chapter in Michele’s narrative, which began with his fall show presented last February in Milan, dedicated to the multitiered ritual of designing, making, staging and viewing a fashion show.

Here, Michele talks to WWD about that very first show in January 2015, while at the same time eyeing future projects.

WWD: Five years later, how do you remember that first bow on the runway? Did you expect such a global reaction to your designs and know or expect that you would be appointed creative director of the brand?

Alessandro Michele: We put together the collection in record time, without any commitment. Marco [Bizzarri] wanted to leave a sign and we redid the collection from scratch. I had no title and knew nothing about the future. Marco and I just liked each other, it was similar to being on a new date, when there’s not certainty you’ll ever get engaged. I love my job and I just followed my instinct, living the beauty of the moment.

There was no contract and I had not really sensed what projects Marco or [Kering chief] François-Henri Pinault had for the brand or for me. This proves how creative Marco is, the way he approaches projects. He took a gamble with me, but like a coach with his team, he risked everything.

WWD: You had been working at Gucci for a long time; how did your team feel about you taking the lead? Were they supportive or suspicious?

A.M.: Marco didn’t know me but I admit I had an audience of friends and colleagues who shared my passion and must have supported me. They had known me for many years, they knew my approach to work, my passion, they were fans. I wasn’t worried, there was empathy with people in the company. It almost felt like they were expecting it. We worked hard, we restaged the show location, but I don’t remember feeling tired. We had fun, it’s a beautiful memory.

WWD: Speaking of the location — how did you conceive that? It was definitely a different set from what we were used to seeing at Gucci. As was the styling, the casting, the music. How did you plan that?

A.M.: I was thinking of codes that belonged to the brand and that could fit with my vision, I did it instinctively. Gucci had been reflecting the jet-set, a social class that was totally dead, symbols of an era that was closing. I was thinking of Apollo and Venus, a less precise gender, of the beauty of a new generation, mirroring the reality I saw, the chic French professor blouse.

I chose the emotional music from Tom Ford’s [movie] “A Single Man” because he has always been a great point of reference — the inventor of Gucci for me. He has marked an era, revolutionizing the brand.

WWD: When did you realize you were leaving a mark in fashion?

A.M.: I never imagined that anyone would say that I had done a gender fluid show. I was happy and I wasn’t disturbed by this, but I just thought [the designs] reflected my life in a normal way. As a farmer [selling] his vegetables, as a designer I simply staged what I saw, traveling, looking at my friends. To me they were simply parts of a certain beauty and aesthetics that belonged to Gucci. The brand has been able to change so much, and quickly, over the years, it’s a chameleon, mirroring what’s outside. And a brand makes sense if it is part of the contemporary times.

WWD: You had been working with Frida Giannini for years, yet it became apparent that you did not share her sense of style and fashion vision. How did you channel your creativity at that time?

A.M.: I am a professional and worked to deliver my craft and experience. I was loyal, we had a very good relationship and I was delivering what I was asked to do, but there was no sharing. Not often is one asked for an opinion, so I executed as best I could. I was part of a huge mechanism. At the same time, I explored my own world privately.

I had been thinking of leaving for the previous two years; I was tired and flattened because I like the sense of freedom in my work.

Richard Ginori was a lifeline for me. I was finding my day job boring and rigid, and [former president and ceo] Patrizio di Marco asked me to become creative director of Richard Ginori. I had great freedom and so much fun with that. Porcelain is one of my great passions and I had the opportunity to revamp a wonderful brand. I redid the stores, pored over every small detail. I started from things that I have at home. I do the same for Gucci. I keep so many things, objects, furniture. This job follows me always. When I look at something, I think of fashion. It’s a job that engages you and I was not engaged before.

WWD: What happened once you were confirmed creative director? Did the responsibility or the pressure worry you? Did you think about things in a different way?

A.M.: From the first to the second show it was all very natural. I was so happy to work with a group of people that I love and respect. I was free to be creative, I was not there to secure a job. It was a life experience, whatever happened.

When I saw the reaction to my first show and that quite a few people were disoriented, I thought they would fire me, but I always say that Marco was my Pygmalion. He gave me freedom and I did not always feel free before then.

I wanted to show how I saw the world outside, not Photoshopped, not a world frozen in a Jurassic era, and a man that was different from the Alpha man.

WWD: Why did you think your designs had so much traction and were copied around the world?

A.M.: The collection had an echo because many aspire to that freedom. Once you feel free, you want to create a product that represents what is outside. Some designers, each in their own way, realized that fashion is a language that can be liberated from marketing. We were coming from 15 years of pushing iconic bags and the bourgeois look, but outside the world had changed.

WWD: Five years into this role, you are now renaming and restructuring the collections. Is this a topical moment for you?

A.M.: I feel good, these have been five wonderful years. It’s been an incredible journey, I feel fulfilled, and, when I look back, I wonder at some of the things I did.

Creativity fascinates me, like a voice simply coming out. I did what came to mind, I had fun and enjoyed it. I like to see that I have told an authentic story and I am happy with what I did.

With the lockdown everything stopped, but if you are receptive, you can produce something different. I spoke with Marco about this. Fashion is experimenting and it is connected with what is happening in the present. I have a lot of energy, and I feel like a gymnast. As long as my legs work, and I am in a good place mentally, I can do whatever it takes. I love to question myself, I hope to maintain this energy, to risk and experiment.

WWD: Fashion is also about newness, but in the wake of the pandemic, many brands are underscoring the need to have more carryover designs and products that can withstand time. You have not dramatically veered your aesthetic over the years. Do you think this could serve you well? Should we expect something very different after Epilogue?

A.M.: It could have been risky because from the grandmother’s dress to the nerdy sweatshirts, the changes were made within my world.

I swim in this sea that is mine, watching with my own eyes, so that you can tell that [my designs] are seen through my eyes. I am very monogamous and loyal to my soul, so products reflect what I see. I instigate, but then fashion goes on its own path, from the freaks and extravagance to normality.

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