Milan is certainly not one of those European cities that you can explore on foot and organically discover for yourself.Milan is to Rome as, say, Munich is to Berlin. For all its architectural wonder (at least, to the fascinated Australian eye), vibrant fashion industry, and inherent joy in the Italian language, Milan is ultimately a corporate centre. It can seem a fairly unemotional city at first flush – that is, until you’re able to attach your personal relationships and sensory experiences to its sensible streets and straight faces. If you’re here to tick it off your bucket list, there is no question that you need a hit list. Sob at the feet of the feat of humanity that is the Duomo di Milano, walk the Navigli canals at sunset, see a show at Teatro alla Scala, taste Antonio Guida’s genius at Seta at the Mandarin Oriental, have dark chocolate gelato at Cioccolati Italiani, stay up all night, check out at noon, move on. No time to judge. Just another Italian city with stellar carbohydrates and well-furnished designer headquarters.
When you’re in town every 6 months for work, with a lot of time spent in cars, in offices, in studios, and very limited opportunity to indulge in the novelty Italian-ness of Milano, the (major) key to offsetting the constant road rage seems to hinge on reconciling its rich (and almost fantastical) art history with a much grittier youth culture, consuming contemporary art and film, or classical art and film in a contemporary setting – all underpinned by a somewhat 80s Paninaro gang mentality.
It’s pretty easy to draw parallels here with the luxury fashion sector. Luxury brands and houses continue to struggle with the pressure of speaking to younger generations without losing sight of their elevated branding that has, up till now, been maintained by inaccessibility. Of course, the exponential growth of the online information pool has democratised the industry, and thus consumer power to indulge in self-expression.
I always say to clients that this is not about dumbing down a luxury product to street-level for the short-term revenue gratification of reaching the masses. Rather, it’s educating a prospective luxury consumer – making the brand message comprehensible to a consumer who has so much access to information, that their perception of quality and value is deafened by mass marketing. To build brand loyalty, the brand must interact with the consumer’s interpretation of their product, rather than projecting imaginations of yesteryear’s perfect private clients onto over-stimulated and subjectively uncouth youth. That is, resolving the brand’s true social perception with its long-term brand strategy and ideology. This is precisely what Alessandro Michele’s re-appropriation of Trevor “Trouble” Andrew’s ‘Gucci Ghost’ graffiti art appropriation of Ye Olde Gucci monogram set out to do. Having so clearly established his baseline new-world 70s, eclectic,
globetrotting Gucci girl characters in his critically acclaimed breakout seasons as Creative Director of the brand, Michele equipped himself with a provocative canvas by which he might reclaim Gucci’s stature amongst European fashion houses as a true cultural authority.
Nobody can deny that Gucci as a brand has experienced periods of peak cultural impact – most notably with Tom Ford’s sexualised power women, and then in the early 2000s as one of the world’s most counterfeited brands. In today’s digital
landscape, where the boundaries of intellectual property and ownership of brand identity is so controversially unregulated and fluid (Richard Prince’s Instagram art is a glaring example), counterfeiting has evolved into social discourse through the new wave of creatives who would rather comment on the status and lifestyle constructed around fashion and the industry, than pretend to buy into it with fake goods and air kisses. Traditional brands, publications and retailers can either remain bitter about the looming paradigm shift, or they can hire the hacker, so to speak. Rather than labelling new voices and mediums as competitors, the old guard would be clever to take credit for their juniors’ success and benefit from a fresh rendition of their old tricks. Certainly, in acknowledging the cult success of Andrew’s abstraction of its signature GG, Michele reclaimed Gucci’s cultural impact both at street level, and in the art world.
Congruently, and unlike the rest in the ring of greats (Raf Simons, Nicolas Ghesquière, Phoebe Philo, Miuccia Prada) where our Gucci maestro is slated to play, Michele is not a calculated designer. He designs stories from instinct and the heart. As one hero bag from the Fall/Winter 2016 collection so brazenly proclaimed in red leather letters, L’AVEUGLE PAR AMOUR (love blindly) – not without direction, but certainly not linearly. Alessandro’s inspiration alluded to Sylvano Bussoti’s rhizomatic scores – wildly expanding graphical notations of sound for the performer to stamp as their own. Such was the rich progression of texture, colour and layering in the looks striding through an old train station here in Milan, the pulsing acoustics that shook the back of your eyeballs more than the stormy light show and projections of black, raging waves on screens encompassing the runway, or the electricity of a hundred people on the edge of their seats.
Even the all-red painted, carpeted and furnished showroom for re-sees of the FW16 collection was a lot to take in, for any brain that has come to accept incessant derivatives of Philo’s minimal lines as normal. It’s an assault on the senses, and a necessary assault on the industry in the most natural, evolutionary manner.
Backstage after the show, a wild-eyed journalist brandished a dictaphone under Alessandro’s nose and demanded to know if his use of a graffiti artist was a protest against the shaky state of an outdated industry. Was it? Was it?
“No. This is just about what is beautiful for all the ways we see beauty,” said Alessandro.
Onwards and upwards for Gucci.