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I ain’t afraid of no ghost!
Gucci’s Alessandro Michele could put the “Ghostbusters” refrain on a T-shirt, but not out of purposeful kinship with the movie’s bumbling practitioners. Rather than take umbrage at the creative appropriation antics of the entity known as GucciGhost, Michele invited him into the official Gucci fold. The brand’s show today will feature a collaboration between its red-hot creative director, who has captivated the fashion world with his gentle, often gender-ambiguous Gucci, and Brooklyn-based artist GucciGhost, aka Trouble Andrew, aka Trevor Andrew.
Andrew’s art takes more from Gucci than his witty, alliterative tweaking of the brand’s name. That handle emerged organically but is rooted in his longtime obsession with, and invocation of, all things Gucci, most significantly its GG-logo. He has tampered flagrantly with it in graffiti, wall art and on decorative objects as well as on vintage clothes that he rips, shreds, decorates and otherwise reconfigures.
Michele, who only became aware of Andrew’s work recently, thinks it’s great. “I saw the way Trevor was using the symbol of the company and I thought it was quite genius,” Michele said, not at all offended by the overt pilfering. “It’s completely different than the idea of copying. It’s the idea that you try to [take to] the street, through language like graffiti, the symbols of the company.”
When the notion surfaced to invite Andrew to collaborate on the fall collection, Michele said he got no pushback from the Gucci brass, and that president and chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri “was quite in love” with the idea.
Long fascinated with brands, Andrew has repurposed his own clothes for as long as he can remember (he caught the vintage bug as a child, thrifting with his mother). As for the emergence of his branded alter ego, in a grab-and-go costume moment one Halloween several years ago, he pulled a Gucci sheet from somewhere in his studio. (Yes, a sheet, a gift sourced in the Philippines. Asked about the authenticity of its provenance, he offered, “I mean, I guess so.”) He cut two eye-view holes in it, plopped it over his head and roamed downtown Manhattan like a party-hearty Casper, smiling at shout-outs of “GucciGhost!”
He then started drawing a friendly, logoed cartoon specter about town, in bathrooms, on garbage cans, wherever he dared. GucciGhost was born, and soon, the downtown-cool, viral-cool persona exploded. (Andrew knows from cool. He’s married to Santi White, aka Santigold.) The character took over his studio, now covered with innumerable riffs on the brand’s iconography.
Given that extreme appropriation — some might see it as mockery — of Gucci iconography, the collaboration might strike many as odd. Michele and Andrew operate in parallel spheres of the fashion spectrum, on the surface a great distance apart. Yet creatively, their perspectives are not all that different. Michele loves the grandeur of high fashion. He loves its possibilities, the platform it creates for time-honored crafts and superior workmanship, its storytelling power. He also loves street style, and is adamant that even high fashion must be relevant to everyday life.
Andrew (he prefers the GucciGhost and Trouble Andrew monikers) developed his fashion sensibility from the street up. A former competitive skateboarder/snowboarder-turned-designer/artist/music impresario, he is something of a street-culture Renaissance man. Key to that status: that deep-seated Gucci obsession. It started when, with his first serious money earned as a teenaged skateboarder, he bought a Gucci watch. “I feel like the value of that watch was so much more than I paid because it represented something,” Andrew said. That “something” would resonate deeply, becoming a cornerstone of his work.
It may have been inevitable that these two men would cross paths at some point in their creative journeys and that, in this age of fashion-art coziness, said crossing would manifest in collaboration rather than conflict. Artists’ collaborations are not new in fashion; neither is the concept of street artists having their graffiti-ed ways with tony logos. But it has been 15 years since the Louis Vuitton-Stephen Sprouse duet that made such a splash while thrusting Sprouse back into the forefront of fashion after a long hiatus. Certainly this is the boldest collaboration of a major brand with an artist since that series orchestrated by Marc Jacobs at Vuitton (Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and Yayoi Kusama following Sprouse), and the flashiest. And it’s the first time a major fashion brand has enlisted an artist that it has so inspired to such an audacious degree.
Of course, the Sprouse collaboration crossed his mind, Michele said, yet he thinks Andrew’s work is more genuinely of the street and thus more closely aligned with Keith Haring, “the kind of artist who’s really involved with New York. I think he’s still alive in our culture,” Michele noted of Haring, who died in 1990. “Trevor is one of his sons.”
Whatever the particular artistic patrimony, a preview of a few of the collection’s pieces enticed. They looked fresh and beautifully rendered, with Michele’s typical gentleness jolted by street grit of the colorful sort. The show will feature two of Andrew’s vibrant logo-graffiti prints splashed across clothes and accessories and, maybe, a GucciGhost recycled vintage item or two, painted and otherwise repurposed. Late on Tuesday, Michele had not finalized the run of show, so the exact number of collaborative pieces remained up in the air. It will be a tight offering, probably no more than 10 pieces, for which Michele worked up a special label, pink instead of black. Despite that distinction, the brand does not view the GucciGhost range as a capsule. It will be fully integrated on the runway and for the purposes of marketing and merchandising.
From Michele’s conversation, the full collection sounds fascinating and complicated, rooted in multiple layers of influence. He called it sexier than his past outings, and also more Florentine. “I tried to work with some of my passions,” he said. “One is street style. One is Renaissance. The Seventies, and a little injection of some chic points of the Eighties. I love to mix and match [references] into a different language.”
As for muses: the cool girl on the street and the cool patroness in the piazza — Catherine de Medici. “I was inspired by her, by that kind of modern, powerful woman of the past. I was thinking of Caterina de Medici going to Paris, or London, New York, something like this,” Michele said.
Andrew took up skateboarding as a child in Nova Scotia, after not making the soccer-team cut. As it turned out, he was good. Good enough to compete and win. With winning came sponsorships from brands interested in getting inside the heads of the cool-kid set and translating the knowledge gleaned into merch with street cred. Before long, Andrew was “hands-on” in design meetings. In that context, he became aware of the power of brands. “It was definitely through skate culture and street-logo-heavy stuff,” he said. “It was like, you’re proud to wear something because it attached you to a certain idea. Someone would know you were aware of [something], that this thing was happening…There’s a lot of power behind logos. They represent beauty and greatness and a certain lifestyle.”
From the moment he bought that watch, Gucci represented a “certain lifestyle,” a highly aspirational one. Andrew couldn’t get enough of the brand’s symbols, and set out on a 15-year (and counting) odyssey of collection and discovery. “It kind of kick-started the obsession for sure,” he said of that first glamour purchase of his young life. “You can look at something beautiful all you want through the window. When you actually put it on, that’s what takes you into the superhero [mode], you know what I mean? That’s what I really liked about the skateboard s–t, too. Putting on my outfit, it may have been different than most of the kids at school. It made me feel power, confidence.”
A concise expression of the power of logo land and luxury from a street perspective. Michele expressed virtually the same sentiment, as shaped from his luxury-brand view. “I love that you inject [style into] something that belongs to reality…the way you translate [a concept] so that it can go anywhere,” he said, stressing that high fashion isn’t just for parties. “I want to give new life [to clothes] in a way that every single piece looks wearable. It’s easy to wear, and it’s a masterpiece.”
“Masterpiece.” Michele presents as a gentle soul, and his use of the word rang not at all self-aggrandizing. Rather, by “masterpiece” he meant that a luxury piece should be worked, it should be special, the opposite of fast fashion, a piece resulting from careful creative consideration and subsequent skill in production. He pointed to the brand’s U.S. p.r. head Susan Chokachi, sitting nearby in his romantically appointed office at the company headquarters, its walls covered in Chinese floral motif fabric and on its floor, a series of small oriental rugs. Chokachi wore jeans and a pullover sweater — an embroidered pullover, decorated intensely with fauna (huge bird in flight; slithering snake) and an abundance of lush flora. It’s a gorgeous, distinctive pullover with a hefty retail — $7,500 — but a pullover nonetheless, one of a genre that has quickly become a signature of Michele’s Gucci.
“I try to create a quirky idea of fashion-street,” Michele said. “It’s the way you show it, the way it’s worn. With a brand like Gucci, you have to give something that belongs to beautiful Italian culture in terms of craftsmanship and materials. It’s like haute couture for the street. You can go outside in [Chokachi’s] jumper. I love the idea that it can be very wearable, with a pair of jeans. You don’t have to be scared to be chic and comfortable in the streets.”
As the fall season approached and Michele mulled the concept of couture-like fashion suitable for the street, and how to deliver it while advancing his aesthetic for fall, two friends, one a designer in his studio, the other, photographer Ari Marcopoulos, who shot the brand’s pre-fall lookbook, brought Andrew’s GucciGhost work to his attention. “You have to see this,” Marcopoulos told him. “You’ll love it.”
Indeed. “Trevor’s language is authentic; Trevor is authentic,” Michele said. “He lives in Brooklyn, he knows Gucci. The way he used the color, the way he’s translating our power is real. I wanted to put [his work] into the collection to give this kind of language real life; it’s just another face of the brand. And also, I love the idea of what is real and unreal.”
Intrigued by possibility, he couldn’t wait to meet GucciGhost. The feeling proved mutual. Andrew gathered examples of his work, some existing, some new pieces, done in a hurry — drawings, graffiti-ed objects, various vintage clothing pieces Gucci-fied with logos done in dripped paint or with slogans such as “Life Is Gucci” — and headed to Rome.
Though he claims to have been “a little intimidated,” Andrew found the whole adventure thrilling. “Alessandro takes risks, I take risks. He really gave me the freedom to create and be comfortable,” Andrew said. He was installed in a studio of his own where he worked frenetically. “I just had music on, and was painting bags and painting jackets and painting material and drawing stuff and making my own mock-ups of prints and giving them my whole — just giving them a whole bunch of ideas.” That was just weeks ago.
Having experienced a strong creative connection with Michele and pleased with his own output, he went home happy, if unsure how his work would be used. “Alessandro doesn’t just stick to one safe idea,” he said. “He does a bunch of things that feel right. Working off of feeling is such an important thing. To me, that’s everything. I’m not too rational, I guess.”
For his part, Michele spoke of their fused aesthetics in faux-scientific terms. “It’s like a chemical [reaction], if we put together two different obsessions. It’s as if I approach Caterina de Medici with this kind of [street] language.”
Andrew returned to Italy last week, this time to Milan, where he was again installed in a studio, painting clothes and accessories but also walls, chairs and just about anything else that entered his line of sight. He also got his first look at the actual merch: leather shoppers, some of them huge, with giant, thickened “painted” GG logos; impeccably crafted items of clothing, done in graffiti prints. Of an exquisitely cut pleated skirt shown with a jewel-bibbed sweater and athletic socks, Michele noted that even “a beautiful bourgeois skirt” can make “a certain kind of translation street style.”
For GucciGhost’s part, 2:30 this afternoon can’t come soon enough. “I can’t wait for this stuff to come out,” Andrew said. “It’s validation for my craziness.”