Nose rings and glitter: Gucci reveals ‘dialogue with otherness’

From high street to catwalk, collaboration is a mainstay of fashion now. But Gucci’s show on Thursday afternoon – one that celebrated the brand’s 100th anniversary – stepped the idea up a gear.

Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, worked with the designs of one of his biggest rivals for influence – Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia. The resulting items featured the Balenciaga logo and Gucci monogram and looked like very expensive bootlegs. They had exactly the kind of postmodern take on branding that gets a lot of play in the Instagram era.

The rest of the show – a film directed by Michele with the director Floria Sigismondi – achieved that too. It featured models in harnesses with whips, feathered trousers, men in crop tops, and live rabbits carried down a runway. Gucci fans would recognise designs that were originally created by Michele’s most notable predecessor, Tom Ford, including the red velvet suit that Gwyneth Paltrow wore in 1996, a version of which opened this show.

There were also trucker hats reading ‘100’, riding boots and lots of glitter. Some models wore jewelled nose rings that could potentially be charged with cultural appropriation; they recalled the nathori worn by Bengali women to denote marital status.

There was a loose narrative. Models entered a club called Savoy (a reference to the hotel, where the founder Guccio Gucci worked as a young man) at the start, walked down a catwalk with flashbulbs and ended up in a secret garden, bonding with more rabbits, as well as peacocks and horses. The 15-minute film showcased clothes, but also another chance to spend time inside Michele’s imaginarium.

After the film was streamed for journalists, there was a digital press conference. Michele explained that the work with Balenciaga – a brand that is also part of the Kering group – was a logical conclusion to his time at Gucci so far. He said “establishing a dialogue with otherness” was central, adding: “I have been an excellent thief, a robber.”

Gvasalia approved of the idea of lending his designs to Michele: “Demna really enjoyed the idea of me using his patterns, his styles to make something else,” said Michele. Gvasalia’s Balenciaga designs – typically more architectural and artistic – were Guccified. “I added a bit of light, a bit of glitter,” said Michele.

Michele, as that thief or robber, is keen to embrace other people’s interpretations of Gucci – the soundtrack of the show featured songs that referenced the brand in the lyrics – and make new Guccis by disrupting norms of luxury. This could be read as close to an art project, but there’s also strategy there. “I think this rejuvenation is the only way to make fashion live,” he said.

A show in April puts Gucci firmly outside the industry’s fashion calendar. When the pandemic hit in May last year, the brand – which was a longtime fixture on the Milan schedule – announced it would now be seasonless, and move from showing five collections a year to two. According to Michele, this took into account the different climates of Gucci’s global audience and addressed the environmental impact of producing multiple collections.

Since then Gucci has presented a collection in July worn by the designers in the studio and livestreamed – and at GucciFest in November – a series of films co-directed by Gus Van Sant.