Written during quarantine in his apartment in Rome, Michele’s words were as arcane, as convoluted as the manifestos that accompany all his shows. You could almost imagine them as the translation of an ancient poet dreaming of what the world would – could, should – be like in the aftermath of a viral catastrophe such as Rome has endured more than once over the millennia. “We incited Prometheus and we buried Pan.” I’ve yet to read a more poetically succinct indictment of how the species has lost its way.
But, in reality, Michele was reconceiving Gucci. And on Monday, he was squarely back in the modern world, facing a digital interrogation from twenty tiny screens, keen to dissect the swirling rococo prose of his blueprint for the brand’s post-Covid future.
The big news was that, from now on, Gucci will show only twice a year. Michele was crying Basta! to the furious carousel of seasonal extravaganzas. That added an ironic flourish to the backstage merry-go-round that was Gucci’s show in February for Autumn 2020, given that it’s likely to be the brand’s last physical production for the foreseeable future. But first, a last Cruise show…the original plan was to present it in San Francisco, but it will now be a downscaled digital offering called, appropriately, Epilogue. It’s scheduled for July 17, the last day of Milan’s hastily convened Digital Fashion Week.
And so, on to the future.
Dismissing the language of the fashion calendar – Cruise, Pre-Fall, Spring/Summer, Fall/Winter – as “stale and underfed,” Michele preferred the terminology of classical music going forward: symphonies, overtures, nocturnes, minuets and a dozen other intricacies.
“Music supports humanity,” he told his Zoomers. I imagine those two shows a year as pillars, the symphonies where the Gucci orchestra will be in full cry, and then, throughout the rest of the year, there will be études, nocturnes, flurries of chamber music, delicate re-interpretations and re-mixes of themes to provoke curiosity and sustain interest. Michele added that the defined seasons that have conventionally enslaved the fashion calendar will be less meaningful to him in future, with nothing as precise as spring or fall. “I want to put things in the collections when I want to.”
Michele reaffirmed his passion for fashion shows, but he said he wanted to reinvent them so that the actual shows themselves might not necessarily be physical presentations. “It would be nice to choose whether to meet physically or not. But if we don’t meet in person, the experience will be equally intense.”
If we don’t meet in person, the experience will be equally intense.
He hardly even needed to add that rules are no longer appropriate, that from now on, it will all be experimental. “We’ll change our skin several times,” Michele said. The most important thing, he added, was to desire the re-invention. At the same time, he acknowledged that sounded crazy, impossible even.
Pause to catch breath. We were talking about Gucci here, the tentpole of Kering, with a brand value of nearly $16 billion, and yet here was Michele sounding like a feisty independent, like he could be a signatory to industry-challenging initiatives such as the ones facilitated in the past few weeks by BoF and Dries Van Noten.
But he is fiercely independent, a pure Bohemian spirit, passionately committed to the idea that creativity will be the light to lead us out of the Covid gloom. “A bridge for the species,” he called it. “We’re not doing things for people in the fashion industry only. The fashion industry is like Woodstock. It has a huge audience. People follow us who’ve never been in the stores. It’s not just clothes. We’re supporting dialogues.” And dialogues were, by Michele’s definition, “a reciprocal immense love.” Is there any other designer using such language to describe his relationship with his customer? "I hope other brands will follow us," he mused.
The fashion industry is like Woodstock. It has a huge audience.
He insisted nothing would ever come to pass without the support of his chief executive, Marco Bizzarri. “He’s even more creative than me.” Improbable though that may sound with a dreamer as wayward as Michele, it could actually be true. He needs a long leash. For him, that means more time “to create a captivating product.” And Bizzarri seems to have given him the leash.
I don’t think anyone is exempt from the unprecedented challenges that face fashion over the next few years. Uncertainty will be even more of a fact of life than usual. I sensed Michele processing a different kind of uncertainty last year. Was he even where he wanted to be? Maybe it took a global crisis to clear his head.
“I feel like a horse waiting to start a race,” he told his digital communards on Monday. “I have faith in creativity to solve everything.” I take those sentiments as the airy profundities of a true, dyed-in-the-wool alchemist. The same way that music, in his words, reconnects the fragile to the infinite.
Alessandro, please feel free to make your magic. It's hardly fashion's last hope, but, for now, it is beacon enough.