“I’m very tired.” Alessandro Michele opened his 20-minute post-show press conference with a warning that he might not have much to say. He then went on to address self-creation and re-creation (“We are the Dr. Frankenstein of our lives”), why he titled his Gucci show “Cyborg” after Donna Haraway’s 1984 essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” (“Prophetic….She describes the relationship between being and becoming”), whether his work is best understood via a grounding in Catholicism (“I am a lover of the divine. I would celebrate the gods of Olympus rather than our Catholic sanctities”), and why oh why can’t people be the parents of dragons?
Heady stuff? Did I mention that two models carried their own heads as accessories? (OK, pretend heads, but still.) The heads “represented the struggle…all the teenagers make, even people my own age, trying to develop their personality, to nourish their mind deeply.”
The show thus referenced was as weird as it sounds, and even more wonderful than weird. After last season’s in the foggy-dark-under-strobe-lights-you-can’t-see-the-clothes show, for fall, Michele showed in the ultimate of pristine surroundings — an operating room, all surgical green and white lights — installed in the show space of Gucci’s grandly idiosyncratic headquarters far from the center of Milan. Lest one think he wanted the contrast of a clinical setting for his fantastical clothes, he corrected the notion. In some respects, Michele mused, his job is like that of a surgeon, “cutting, assembling, experimenting on the operating table.” Whether your typical gallbladder patient wants the surgeon to go experimental under the lights — beside the point. For Michele, the hospital shtick spoke to his imposition of order on perceived confusion. “Doing my job [is] a strange path…in my mind at least, I have a scientific and clinic clarity on what I do.”
He may, but that perceived confusion is what makes Michele’s work wondrous. While he spoke of “being and becoming” in the cultural moment, this collection felt neither timely or timeless, but rather, independent of time, existing in its own glorified, Gucci-fied universe where the primary human condition, metamorphosis, manifests in sartorial marvels of imagination, craft and madness, here paraded around operating tables as if it were the most normal thing in the world. This was a cross-cultural, pan-gender, archetype-inclusive (geeks to sirens) odyssey erupting with piled-on embroidered, bejeweled, tweeded, argyled, scarf-printed, fringed, babushka-ed and turbaned overstatement.
If you sought a reference, you could find it, from fantasy (an enchanting sweep of deep red velvet; Baby Dragon accessory) to biblical (Salome in a ski mask). As for more earthly inspirations, Michele drew from countless cultures as well as specific fashion iconography perceived by some to be public domain. (Yes, Chanel and Westwood; sorry, Chanel.) You recognized the Big and Little Edie vibe, but how about the lesser-known men in their lives, Big and Little Eddie? Along the way, Michele name-checked aplenty (all duly credited in show notes, thank you; no Dapper Dan misunderstanding here): Japanese artist Chikae Ide; British leather goods company Globe-Trotter. And, in a collection that couldn’t have been further from standard Americana (give or take those Cyborg Edies) Americanisms abounded: Paramount Pictures logo, Hattie Carnegie-inspire handbag hardware; Major League Baseball insignias. (Whoever at tradition-obsessed MLB thought a collaboration with Gucci would play well into the game’s current exuberant youth movement should be next in line for commissioner.)
Was it a lot? Head-spinning (a feat more easily accomplished with head in hands). But it wasn’t just the crazy, creepy, confounding spectacle that turned heads. It was the clothes — look after look, a masterwork of surprise and beauty, or, when beauty wasn’t the point, of fascination. The best kind of fashion madness.