Gucci, Alessandro Michele and Asia
Asian markets have always been interested in Italian fashion because this has been synonymous with excellence for a long time. What we are probably not used to is thinking of a Western brand capable of knowing how to install itself perfectly in very different cultural contexts (West and East) knowing how to meet a target audience that goes beyond any kind of difference.
Few revolutions in fashion have had the power to bring about radical changes by investing society and sexuality like Gucci or, to be more correct, Alessandro Michele.
Talking about Alessandro Michele and his work, his philosophical discourse, is a titanic undertaking. In this article I will limit myself to writing about the influences that he has been able to collect and transform regarding Asia and how his iconoclastic vision has changed the way the Italian fashion market behaves in the context of the Far East.
In recent years Lallo (as it was originally possible to find him on Instagram) has been mentioned by everyone: more or less famous people, intellectuals, ordinary people and not. This is because his costume revolution could not leave anyone indifferent.
Alessandro Michele was born in Rome in 1972. After studying at the Academy of Costume and Fashion to become a set designer, he worked for Les Copains and in the late 90s he joined Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi.
In 2002 Tom Ford (then creative director of Gucci) called him to London to take care of the maison's accessories. In 2006 he became senior designer of Gucci, in 2011 associate director of creative director Frida Giannini and in 2014 creative director of Richard Ginori (Florentine porcelain brand acquired by Gucci in 2013).
In 2015 Marco Bizzarri (the brand's new CEO) appointed him creative director of Gucci, giving him just one week to organize the men's collection show. The following month he proposed his first women's collection, breaking all molds and triggering the revolution of the entire fashion system.
Until the latest Frida Giannini collection, Gucci has clung to the "sick" aesthetic brought by the Texan Tom Ford in the 90s. If Alessandro Michele upset (positively) the fate of a brand in severe crisis in 2015, it must be said that Tom Ford did the same in his time, saving Gucci from bankruptcy. His 70s American style (which recalls in all respects Roy Halston) based on a sophisticated aesthetic, made up of parties of tanned and excessively thin aristocratic snobs, has been made ideal thanks to collaborations with Carine Roitfeld and Mario Testino, which have produced historic advertising campaigns that are also very controversial.
This whole system, closely linked to a specific ideal and lifestyle, was then inherited by Frida Giannini, who has continued to propose it over the years, deprived of that effective allure of Tom Ford. Collections all the same, monotonous, noisy and banal were swept away with a sweep of the sponge in 2015 by Alessandro Michele.
He has always stated that he has great respect for Tom Ford. On the other hand, not surprisingly, both are united by a pervasive creative power like few other designers of their generations. In my opinion, Lallo recognizes the value weight of his great predecessor, paying homage to him with the Fall 2021 collection for Gucci's 100th anniversary.
Since the very first collection, Gucci presents a disarming, cold and gaunt scenario, with androgynous models and models. Alessandro Michele founded his new value system, complex, precise and baroque.
He defined himself as "a blender who reworks everything that lives", arguing that clothes have no meaning outside their historical context and that they are a way of interpreting and telling both modernity and ourselves. His is a mosaic of references over the centuries and in tastes (or in the lack of taste), his influences and his stylistic code range from aliens, art, museums, cinema, theater, daily life, historical characters, television series, culture pop, musical scenes, religions, technology, vintage, botany and the many motifs of the Gucci archive. He mixes and reworks eras and cultures in what the philosopher Gilles Deleuze called "assemblage". Alessandro Michele mixes present and past, male and female in a Renaissance with dramatic tones, where "drama" derives from the Greek and means complete narrative interweaving intended for theatrical representation.
His modus operandi is a self-evident example of "détournement", or "situationism", the Marxist-libertarian philosophical, sociological and artistic movement with anarchist hints that has its roots in the avant-gardes of the early 1900s (this movement was the basis of creation of the Sex Pistols, as I wrote here). It differs from "quotationism", as the work of Alessandro Michele might seem because, according to Guy Debord, the new is born from the destruction and reassembly of what already exists. Identity can be contradictory, the past thus obtains a new possibility of existing.
Alessandro Michele is a pioneer who places himself in the crucial position between culture, design and art. His stylistic code is imbued with kitsch and camp. Kitsch is about objects that are supposedly artistic but in bad taste, loaded with sentimentality and pathetic, that is, a superficial imitation of art. Camp, on the other hand, is the conscious and sophisticated use of kitsch in art, clothing and attitudes.
Philosopher Susan Tang was the first to examine camp sensitivity in the West in the 1960s, proceeding with a parallelism between the sexual revolution and the progressive legitimization of homosexuality.
Observing each Alessandro Michele collection for Gucci (which are a continuum and it is difficult to differentiate them) means thinking about sex and the meaning of gender. Since the 2015 collection, sex (as we understand it in a broad sense) has disappeared: the construct based on glamor and the ostentation of a "perfection" built over more than ten years since Tom Ford is demolished by making room to the real. No one is ever really ready for Alessandro Michele's collections and ideas, this is a constant that has always accompanied any of his initiatives.
At the base of this fluid and androgynous sexual revolution are (among the numerous sources) the New Masculinity, the writings of Paul Preciado and the studies of the 1950s by sexologist John Money, who coined the term "gender" differentiating it from "sex". By "gender" he indicates the belonging of an individual to culturally recognized groups as male and female. Both categories have certain cultural and social expectations, including the roles to be assumed and how one must present oneself in society. For most people, gender matches the cultural and social expectations of the sex one is born with: in fact, therefore, gender is purely a social construct.
Alessandro Michele questions and investigates what gender is for Generation Z and the answer lies in "fluidity" and the consequent creation of non-binary and genderless clothing.
The Asian cultural context presents an aesthetic fluidity of gender that we could define as "modern", in the sense that for historical, social and cultural reasons the idea that a man can show characteristics that in the West we would define feminine or ethereal is something not only widely accepted, but also encouraged (I talked about it here about the evolution of aesthetics in South Korea and the related beauty market). This factor is certainly at the basis of the enormous success of Gucci's collections in Asia.
Many of Alessandro Michele's collections have been influenced by Orientalism, a term used by art historians and literaries to define the imitation or representation of aspects of Asian cultures in Western works.
Already in 2013 Frida Giannini had tried to expand the brand's market in Japan with an exhibition at Hiroiko Araki's Florence showroom. Among the various pieces on display, some illustrations regarding the famous JoJo's Bizarre Adventures series: "Jolyne, Fly High with Gucci" is the story inspired by the Cruise 2013 line.
In 2016, just one year after Alessandro Michele took office, the Gucci Garden opened in the Dover Street Market in Ginza, featuring the Flora motif.
In the same year, he asked four artists (Chiharu Shiota, Daito Manabe, Mr. and Trouble Andrew) to "create a room" inspired by the brand's universe. Thus was born Gucci 4 Rooms, a set of works visible on a mini website.
Alessandro Michele's disruptive vision has led some artists to re-mix his imagery with those of other authors, thus creating new narratives. An example is that of the San Francisco artist Eastwood Wong, who dressed Sailor Moon with the Gucci clothes from the Spring 2016 collection: being her favorite character of the years, she rediscovered the qualities of strength, independence and charisma in the clothes by Lallo.
For Fall / Winter 2017, Alessandro Michele would in turn turn to John Galliano for Dior for some looks. One in particular takes up the chinoiserie of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the motifs of Japonism and Fin de siècle, as can be seen in the choice of the huge parasol umbrella - a subject that Galliano in turn would have taken from the 1920s artist Maria Lani.
2018 was certainly one of the most significant years for the maison: Alessandro Michele's narrative took further steps forward in its significance, in addition to numerous collaborations with brands and artists.
For the Pre-fall 2018 Gucci collaborated with Vogue for the realization of a photo shoot with six Chinese families portrayed in scenes of everyday life in Shanghai.
Gucci began to create clothing dedicated solely to the Asian market, having in fact Asians a body shape different from Westerners, as well as welcoming a much more fluid aesthetic.
The Fall / Winter 2018 collection was inspired by the book A Cyborg Manifesto (1984) by writer Donna Haraway. In a "surgical" scenario, the models walk around with severed heads under their arms, as if they were pieces of their avatar. The collection, which has created a lot of outrage, is a metaphor for a trans-human process and how people build their identities through technology (Hollywood, Instagram, Netflix, TV series). As disturbing as it may seem, Alessandro Michele did not intend this process in negative, but as the possibility of freeing oneself from the natural boundaries in which we were born.
Among the various looks stands out the character Natalia from Viva! Volleyball, the manga by Chikae Ude published in 1968.
The references to the world of Asia (pagoda hats and Chinese pajamas) are taken from the Fall / Winter 2016, a collection in which the dress that recalls the qipao was presented and which was worn by Melania Trump on the occasion of an important diplomatic meeting along with Donald Trump, President Xi Jiaoping and his wife Peng Liyuan.
In conjunction with the Chinese New Year and the Qizi Festival (Chinese Valentine's Day), Gucci has created a special collection in honor of the year of the dog: 63 items of clothing and accessories featured Alessandro Michele's Boston Terriers.
Also in 2018 Gucci collaborated with Comme des Garçons. Together they created and presented in Ginza a shopper model bag in brown or black artisan paper enclosed in PVC and embellished with a green-red-green band.
For the Cruise "Roman Rhapsody" campaign Alessandro Michele chooses Silvia, an icon of Chinese restaurants in the capital, from among the various testimonials.
Originally from Zhejiang (the Chinese region from which the famous diaspora of the 1980s started, I'll tell you about it here), Silvia embarked on a career in catering in the early 1990s at the Sino-Italian restaurant Hang Zhou owned by her uncle her. Over the years Silvia has made the restaurant a certain destination for Italian customers, has expanded the menu and then bought the place in 2001, making it part of the prestigious Gambero Rosso guide (it was the first Chinese restaurant in Italy to have obtained this recognition).
In 2016 Silvia was also the protagonist of the documentary Strane straniere directed by Elisa Amoruso.
In 2020 a lookbook designed by Eiichiro Oda with the characters of One Piece appeared online wearing looks from the Fall / Winter 2000 collection. Monkey D. Luffy and Roronoa Zoro proudly display Jackie bags, suitcases, coats and monogram accessories.
The same year the "No space, Just a place Eterotopia" project was presented in Seoul. The aim is to support the contemporary cultural and artistic landscape of the South Korean capital.
Through the works of some artists (including Sunsil Ryu and Jun Hyerim) we want to found a new perspective of "being together", an idea of alternative spaces as a utopian place touching on queer themes and minority identities. Alessandro Michele's reflection on society through his radical aesthetic vision.
On the other hand, 2021 saw Japan as the protagonist of the Gucci world.
On October 28, 2021, the Gucci Osteria curated by Massimo Bottura, located on the top floor of the Gucci Namiki flagship store in Ginza, opened in Tokyo.
The menu features typical dishes from the Gucci Osteria, plus some Japanese-inspired seasonal creations, such as the Parmigiana Ramen and the Milanese Wagyu.
A children's collection was then presented in collaboration with the famous Japanese illustrator Yuko Higuchi, which combines playful elements and fairy-tale gardens.