Gucci, how you’ve changed. In recent years you’ve been luxurious but, well, just a tad dull. But now you’re so exciting, so youthful, so cool. This was the take-home message from the Italian brand’s menswear show during Milan fashion week on Monday.
In six months, Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, has managed to completely turn around the industry’s perception of this juggernaut of a brand. Gucci had became known for staid, caramel luxury, but now, after three shows from Michele, it means men in geeky glasses and flares carrying handbags. In terms of catwalk tactics it has been a masterstroke.
The message has not been subtle. For this, his most confident collection yet, Michele moved the show to a new venue for the first time in almost two decades: a simple manoeuvre which underlined the new order. The venue was a disused railway shed in north-west Milan. Coloured strip lights contrasted with the fancy floral opera chairs lining the concrete catwalk.
The show notes began with a quote from the situationist theorist Guy Debord which proclaimed “Détournement is the opposite of quotation” and went on to explain that this meant putting “decontextualised fragments back into circulation” with new meaning. High-minded stuff, as far removed from luxury share prices as it is possible to get. It could be read as the height of pretension, but in terms of the clothes on show, it made a lot of sense.
On the catwalk, fragments of the old Gucci were there: in the loafers with the backs of the shoes trodden down, in the double G belts, in the logo-adorned trench coat and in the mix of dark green and red – the colours of 1970s Gucci. But they had been pieced back together to entirely different effect. Backstage the designer said he had wanted to put the brand into the show but did not want to be a prisoner inside it. “I love to work with the past to translate the future,” he said.
The collection’s vibe recalled Fleetwood Mac. Models wore pussy bow blouses and embroidered silk dressing gowns with fur sleeves; pink lace shorts followed men in hairclips. Flared tracksuits made way for Lurex blouses, pie crust collars and large lapels. Handbags were carried by men with Robert Peston hair and Jarvis Cocker glasses. Prints recalled the floral wallpaper of 1970s sitcoms. It was a challenge to masculinity, albeit a beautifully embroidered one. Michele said breezily that masculinity was about beauty and that you could interpret that how you wanted.
Gucci’s high-speed creative revolution was much needed. As the flagship brand of its parent company, Kering, it is the conglomerate’s cash cow: the world’s second most valuable luxury brand, according to Forbes. But revenue in 2014 showed an annual drop in its sales of 1.1%. In December, Gucci bosses sacked both the CEO and the creative director, Frida Giannini, and promoted the then unknown Michele to the top job. François-Henri Pinault, Kering’s chairman and CEO, recently said that he expects the change in personnel to revive the brand.
In fashion, perception is all. The message from the catwalk flows down fast and success relies on creative impact translating speedily into sales. It is clear that Gucci is now about youth, excitement and energy – an intoxicating commercial force if ever there was one.