The kooky utterances fashion designers sometimes spout (and some fashion journalists often parrot) seldom offer much indicator of what’s actually going on in the collections.
Both in his elaborate show notes and backstage before a beautiful final stand-alone show of menswear for Gucci on Monday, the label’s creative director Alessandro Michele alluded to the metaphysics of journey: real travel, time travel, armchair travel, metaphoric and philosophical voyages, everything but budget trips to Las Vegas on a Greyhound bus.
It doesn’t really matter that the blather bore minimal relation to what he showed on the runway. In just a few seasons, Michele has revived the flagging fortunes of this venerable luxury goods label, one whose revenue for the year is predicted to top 4 billion euros (or $4.5 billion).
To a large extent, he has done so by capitalizing creatively on how people consume culture in the internet era, rummaging for imagery and information, either ignorant or agnostic about the sources of signs and symbols, references and ideas.
Thus when Michele offers a menswear collection (and it was emphatically a menswear collection, notwithstanding the inclusion of a smattering of female models) before an audience that included his Hollywood BFF Jared Leto (they attended the Oscars together this year), Ryan McGinley and the blond ephebe boy-star Olly Alexander in a plush bordello space lighted the color of absinthe, two of the three dressed in glorious half-drag, you know you are in for a trip.
And Michele delivered with souvenir jackets scrolled with dragons; flower-patterned suits and contrast piped rowing blazers; Mary Janes with jeweled buckles; slickers and rain caps straight off a box of Fisherman’s Friend lozenges; over-embroidered jeans jackets; Fair Isle sweaters with Donald Duck woven into the pattern; satin kimono lounge jackets; tunics ornamented with military braid; drawstring painter’s pants and evening clothes stitched with what looked like trapunto flora.
In doing so, he demonstrated not only his estimable design chops but his kinship with millions of consumers who themselves are Instagram or Pinterest magpies, grabbing at bright scraps and shiny fragments for recombinant use.
Travel, as others have pointed out, has been a leitmotif throughout the Milan menswear season. And while this is probably not the place for cranky opprobrium, it feels necessary to call out the obliviousness of designers who presented collections rife with references to campsites, tarpaulins, tents and displacement when millions of Syrian and Afghan refugees crowd Europe’s borders or wash up dead on its shores.