MILAN — Alessandro Michele shuns boredom and while his debut collection for Gucci was unveiled only five years ago this month, shaking up the industry in more ways than one, he’s ready to reshuffle things.
Speaking to the designer at the sprawling Gucci Hub here ahead of the brand’s return to a men’s-only show today, the five-year anniversary seems to have particular meaning for Michele, who back in January 2015 boldly laid out Gucci’s new aesthetic, introducing a romantic, somewhat quirky and genderless streak in men’s wear that has defined the designer’s path throughout the brand. The invitation is a retro card in a child’s handwriting to a “fifth birthday rave.”
When in 2016 Michele decided to unify Gucci’s shows into a coed format starting in 2017, he explained it as “only natural,” although the move shook up Milan’s fashion calendar and influenced a slew of other designers. Now he’s splitting them again, perhaps spurring a reassessment of coed shows among other designers.
Another change is signaled by Michele’s decision this season to move out of the Gucci Hub and bring the show to the Palazzo delle Scintille, a former Twenties velodrome turned into an exhibition space.
On this day, as usual, the designer perfectly embodies his views on fashion, wearing an elaborate and feminine necklace over a cozy and ribbed beige sweater and workwear denim jeans, at times playing with his long black hair. In an exclusive interview with WWD a few days ahead of the show, Michele talked about his “obsession with childhood and small things,” his defiance of fashion rules — and how men are told to grow up, leaving their boyhood behind.
Alessandro Michele: It was a common decision, meaning my needs and those of the city of Milan coincided. Honestly, at the beginning of my journey I needed to create a very clear and compact image of what Gucci stood for, so for me it was useful for the story. We had [coed] shows for five years so now the men’s show reappears after five years, which is the first show I did [in 2015]. I think my personal incentive was to once again go deep into the details of things that I think are the strongest, because I think men’s wear is even more experimental and stranger, because men are allowed less. [Five years ago], I needed to point in a specific direction and now, instead, a men’s show is a way to be more specific with a story. I also need to avoid getting bored because that [first show] kicked off a uniformity in the market: they followed, they understood, they imagined that thing was possible.
Fashion at times is made of rules which I believe should also not be followed. It’s as in a relationship: I feel that perhaps not living in the same home allows me to see some things better.
Then there’s Milan, which I think is a city that is a great lady of fashion. I’ve grown here, I have been welcomed and so at the request to visit this beautiful lady that is Milan, I did not shy away because it reflected my own need. It’s strange because sometimes not everyone has the same timing, instead everyone liked this idea.
Honestly, at the beginning I just felt I wanted to do it, but then I also wanted to think about how to communicate it, how to work on it with Marco [Bizzarri, president and chief executive officer], because it’s an important decision. Then in the end you realize that many shared what I was keeping inside, a decision that was welcomed and perhaps someone was waiting for me to share it. So I say it’s a karmic decision and I am happy.
And it’s strange because at this moment I would have been doing other things and instead I am here again working on men’s. I like it, it reminds me of five years ago. The other day we went to dinner with friends and it was the ninth [of January] and they remembered I got the job [of Gucci creative director] on the ninth [of January 2015] and we toasted at Briciola [restaurant]. I didn’t remember the date, they did. I am not nostalgic of the past. It seems a contradiction, but I am not tied to the things of the past, I very much like the things that happen now and so I don’t remember the dates, but it’s beautiful, very powerful.
It’s strange because there are women in the show but I look at these men all alone and I look at them even better, and building the press release you will read, I realized that also the press release is really a manifesto — even if it is not — of something that belongs to my language.
After five years, this man from the chromosomic point of view, in reality is very many things and when I started to work on him five years ago, I did it in a natural way, because when I think of the world of men, I think of a world that is truly complex.
At times one says “women are very complex, while men are less so…” and it is true because a woman, also naturally is programmed to really do many things, the mother, etc., and is capable of doing many things, but this is a bit limiting. I don’t like social roles. I am a man, too, in my own way, so also in writing the press release, it’s been a moment to speak, perhaps also with more awareness, of the idea of masculinity because, well, women fight, they have fought very much and they will still have to, but I believe that men should also do it. Some do, some don’t, but, well, I think it’s interesting to express a point of view.
WWD: What should men fight for?
A.M.: Well, to be free, to be free also to be in touch with their feminine side. In the end, those who do so are the best, because they have no skeletons in their closets, in the sense that in the end a man is made of a very strong feminine part, so that, from a political point of view, let’s say, a man, like a woman, obviously for convenience, has been programmed and stereotyped, but in reality, the stereotype of the man is really very narrow, claustrophobic. And instead, men, I think, are much more else. They have many facets and in fact it’s not by chance that those among the most fascinating are those that have a very marked feminine side, which does not mean wearing a skirt, but means being in contact with a certain kind of emotionality, with the sincerity of also being fragile, of having different needs.
Fashion through a representation is able to give an idea that is, well, very intense, so I think is an interesting task. In men you feel there are very different things, and it’s as if I can see them.
WWD: The meaning of masculinity in fact seems to be quite central today, and the Ermenegildo Zegna Group last year launched an advertising campaign on this issue. So I imagine it’s a question shared by men today?
A.M.: Yes, and not in a banal way, which is a little aged. What we wear is a basic thing but how do I give a representation of me? I may be someone who goes to the movies and wants to see a more poetic film rather than…”Star Wars?” Meaning, perhaps I am not represented only by that garment, perhaps there are things that convey a different idea of me.
[To dress] is also political, isn’t it? It’s as if it were not allowed to a man to suggest who he is. He can write it, as for example, he can write an article, he can be a journalist, a poet, but then he must stop at a certain point, as if someone said, “OK, but if you go in that other direction you are no longer even a man.” Instead, you are a man in the same way, and this is the same for women.
WWD: So what is the answer you give yourself now? Who is the man you would like to dress? How are your thoughts reflected in this man?
A.M.: I do it in a very free way. It’s also banal to say, I don’t have many constraints, and a bit perhaps comes from my background, but I don’t have any kind of ban or limits. So it’s my way to approach masculine things, it’s a totally free link really to beauty, to being intriguing. The idea of ambiguity is obviously also a way to open up some [doors].
Ambiguity in the end means things that one suggests, does not say or says in another way. In short, a little clarity is always very fascinating and also very elegant, I think, so that’s my approach. Now, I must say, working on the show I was thinking of an idea linked to childhood, I am very fascinated by childhood things.
At times when we buy vintage things, I look at children’s things. To look at those things it’s liberating for men. When you are a child, boys are allowed some things, but after, it’s all over.
So the world of childhood is fascinating and poetic, I buy small things, small dresses. Mothers buy clothes to make their children beautiful and attractive, but when the boys grow up, they are told, “Look, before it was like this because you were a child, now you can’t do it anymore.”
WWD: And what were you like when you were a child?
A.M.: My mother sometimes told me, “No, you can’t wear this,” and she would tell me she couldn’t find it in the closet anymore. For example, I was obsessed by wearing clogs in winter with wool socks when I was six. It must have been 1978, ’79. I was born in ’72, and clogs were fashionable, but obviously in the summer — going to elementary school [was something else]. So if we were at the beach, we were allowed to wear them but my mother was afraid that I would fall, and she said she couldn’t find them anymore. I was very particular, in the end I was such a nuisance and these are things that I also do now. If I like something, I wear it, whatever the season and the opinion of others. When I was very young, I had beautiful things. I remember this beautiful knitted sweater with these pants, almost wool culottes and vests. They were beautiful because there was always someone that had done them for me. I had an aunt who knitted and so the things I wore were really poems.
WWD: So as a child you did not care about what others thought and would just wear what you liked?
A.M.: Yes, and it’s something that I do now, too.
I think that if you like something and you wear it in summer, why not wear it in winter, too? If you are not cold, why not? I like straw very much in winter, a straw hat with the coat, if you are not cold on your head you can wear it. I can’t beyond October and November because I am sensitive to cold. I always wear a hat, the sun also bothers me a bit. There should be no limits, when you are a child that’s how it is. In the end things that we are obsessed with are fascinating, mysterious, because there is a reason why someone does the same thing again and again. What draws me to [childhood and collecting small things?] I thought, what do I find in this world? It’s a brief moment of poetry and freedom. If a boy plays with his mother’s shoes when he’s five, or if he wears a magician’s hat to go to the park, nobody criticizes him, do they? Eh, but perhaps one feels like wearing a magician’s hat also when he’s 50.
There are no magician’s hats on the runway, the reference is more subtle. It was a musing, in the end the investigation into how we are is one that should never be interrupted. It’s as in therapy, in the end humankind is the most fascinating world, it’s the reason why you are a journalist. So I think fashion investigates the world of men, of women, of mankind and almost always people who do my job stage their own fears, their own obsessions. I realized, through another step, exploring the men’s world and not only, also the feminine one, perhaps keeping children’s clothes is maintaining a very high level of poetry and so when I see them, I would like to wear them, but my size isn’t there. It happens to everyone. Does it happen to you, too?
It’s fun, I buy the small things, and I keep them but I see that other adults do that, too, and children’s things are very elegant, they are so full of poetry, because you want a child to wear the most beautiful things, because a child is a sort of masterpiece, a rare object, because in the end it’s nothing new. Bazillions of children were born on this earth, but when a new one is born, you are surprised and you want them to wear something amazing, and then these boys become adults and abandon that dress as in a fairytale. I have a coat that belonged to my sister that I keep as a fetish, it’s a small red wool coat that has a Hussar air. She was born in ’69, she must have been two, so it’s tiny, with these finishings in mock beaver fur. I think it’s a bit in the trail of “Doctor Zhivago [the 1965 film based on Boris Pasternak’s novel].”
WWD: It seems like your mother had good taste…
A.M.: Yes, she was obsessed by clothes. In fact when Vogue Italia asked me for unusual photos to run on Christmas Day, the ones that also popped up were those of showing us dressed up for Carnival, or at parties, because my mother worked in the world of movies and when she masked us up, she put beautiful things on us and so for us, the world of masking, in the sense of wearing also extravagant things, for my mother it was quite natural.
So this small coat that looks like Lara’s in “Doctor Zhivago,” very small, I redid it in the collections.
I always had gigantic closets and now and again this tiny thing would pop up, in a tiny, teeny garment bag. My mother kept it, I guess she was nostalgic for us in our mignon version. She had some of my sister’s clothes, like three, and when she died, one of the first things I took was this particular coat, which for her was a relic, and so now it’s in my closet. I love small things, they have a totally mysterious beauty, small chairs, small coats. The Asians keep this child side, instead we are asked to abandon it. Actually, if I tell you that you are childish, it’s a terrible insult. On the other hand, childish means to be sincere.
WWD: Can you tell us about the looks you will show on the runway? How will you translate your vision?
A.M.: Well, there are in fact small objects that belong to the world of childhood, redone in the men’s size. I think there is a delicacy, a naivety in things, how they are put together, which I very much like. And also I did it in a lighter way, meaning I thought about it, but somehow it all poured out of me. I had fun and it’s the same man as before, the same woman as before but I think that what I explore has more than one [reading], so perhaps I was good in these years because I allowed myself everything. I worked in a way that things I liked could somehow enter, consistently, in the world that I created and then with much love I took care of this territory and now it’s easier because this world, in the end, I know it really well, it has its own identikit. What I do speaks to women and men in many ways.
WWD: Do you think that women will also wear these men’s designs? Because this is the trend...
A.M.: Yes, because everyone likes cross-pollination and women love to wear men’s clothes.
WWD: And why did you choose the Palazzo delle Scintille. Why are you moving away from the Gucci Hub for this show?
A.M.: There is always boredom and to kill it, and then because I believe that sometimes, since Milan is beautiful, I thought I would ask people to move, to explore other locations in the city and allow them to pass through other streets and change their itinerary. If we go to lunch and we change the restaurant and our itinerary, we are all a little more attentive, no? And so also to catch the attention, mine and that of the others, I said, let’s go somewhere else, no? Because we are in Milan, it’s like let’s go back in town.
WWD: What did you like about this location?
A.M.: I needed a place with space, because there was an idea — that you will see — and so I was looking for a party, meaning a meeting place for people in a big place where I can do specific things. It’s functional to what I needed to do, like when one holds a party and looks for a place that can welcome everyone in the right way, so this is the reason. I always like to go in Milan in the places of industrial archeology because it’s quite close to the soul of Milan and so when I am in Milan I like to look around those places that work for me. And it’s cool because Milan is quite fascinating. Sometimes you walk through these beautiful streets from the late 1800s and then suddenly you are in these places. So the map of Milan is beautiful because it has a very consistent structure and then it has some beautiful inconsistencies in the middle of the city, some strange buildings, warehouses. When we were in Valtellina [in a former train station, where Michele staged several shows] there were these huge sheds and the railroads, and then these pretty palazzi from the early 1900s, it seemed like a novel.
WWD: I can tell you like Milan?
A.M.: Yes, because it’s different, it has a specific soul and then I am Roman and it’s different from Rome, and so I like it. When I am here I feel like I am somewhere else and I like that.
WWD: Earlier, when you said you wanted to catch the attention of viewers, do you believe men’s wear was becoming secondary, shown on the runway with women’s wear?
A.M.: No, not at all. Some things that we were doing in men’s wear needed to be looked at with more attention. It’s as if at home, when you notice that you have a beautiful vase, but you put it close to other vases and you say all together they are crazy beautiful, but if I isolate this one, I can see it well. So when I was building the shows before, sometimes I wondered, can you imagine if [each category was presented] alone? At that moment I realized I probably felt I wanted to reason on this almost as a chemist, I wanted to isolate the factor because I saw it better. I think that if I see it better, the others understand it better. I am lucky because I have Marco and all the people working with me, we understand and follow each other well. But I think it’s good, because just as I get bored, even if adding two shows is heavy-duty, but in the end is fatigue better or is boredom worse?