This Was The Most Controversial Runway Show Of The Season

Even someone whose knowledge of fashion begins and ends with the movie Zoolander knows what Gucci is. Naming an iconic item the brand debuted within the past decade, though, is challenging for even its devoted followers: The bamboo bags date back to the '30s; the horse-bit loafers came to be in 1953 along with that green-and-red stripe motif. Even those cutout silk gowns were from Tom Ford’s ‘90s takeover. The fashion fanatic will recognize a pair of cobalt-blue jeans from last September’s spring ’14 show, but for Gucci’s (now) ex-creative director Frida Giannini, it was too little too late. Gucci had slipped from its position as a true influencer in the industry, and it was up to a relative unknown — Alessandro Michele, a 15-year employee at the brand — to rev things up once again for fall 2015.

And indeed, he stepped on the gas. Instead of pressing on into the ‘70s that Giannini helped revive last season, Michele veered in an entirely new direction. His collection inspired newfound fanaticism from a certain group of young fashion devotees — "I grew up on Tom Ford’s Gucci and I have MISSED those definite statements. The house needed a good shaking up," said Laia Garcia of Yahoo Style — and likewise it was met with disappointment from a more pragmatic contingent. Reactions ranged from Style Bubble’s Susanna Lau's “I want to be THIS Gucci Girl” to “It wasn’t Fashion," from NYT’s Vanessa Friedman. It was "yay" versus "meh," and we can see it from both sides.   

Ahead, we offer up a point-counterpoint from our London fashion contributor Paula Goldstein and fashion features director Connie Wang. 

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Photo: MCV Photo.
"Viva la romance!" — Paula Goldstein
Fashion is not about resting on one’s laurels, knowing your handbags will keep selling season after season because you have an established brand. That strategy is already started to lose footing in the case of many of the major houses. Nor is it always about a Moschino-type idea of "statement" pieces that generate a ton of excitement right away, but become impossible to wear after six months.   

For a long time, Gucci has played it very safe. The hot, sexy Tom Ford days are but a memory fading into years of safe separates. And, in all honesty, who was the recent Gucci woman? A well-heeled Italian office worker? It certainly wasn't me. 
Photo: MCV Photo.
So, as new creative director Alessandro Michele  sent his collection down the runway I was prepared to be bored. But, I definitely wasn't! It was irreverent and smart; the Margot Tenenbaum-inspired coats were exactly what I needed. His woman was contemporary and kooky — she had something going on, and that's why I fell in love with this collection. It's his first, and I believe there is much room to grow in terms sophistication. 

For me, runway shows are about the dream, and this one brought glimmers of wonderful personality. The key pieces can come later. The commerce component will always matter, but let's try to remember that fashion is not fast food; it's not an all-you-can eat deal. It’s about items of clothing that are like that limoncello that your husband’s Italian aunt makes that will always remind you that summer is coming. Viva La Romance!

Photo: MCV Photo.
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"Nostalgic, not new." — Connie Wang
There were two things that could have made this show a truly solid one. Either the products themselves could have been spectacular — interestingly cut, impeccably made, and flattering to wear — or it could be full of totally new ideas. The kind of conceptual outing that inspires women to rethink their own wardrobes, even if the clothes don’t lend themselves easily to everyday wear. The best sorts of collections have both, and I can’t say that Michele delivered on either.

The pieces, to be sure, were of top-notch Gucci quality, but besides a few of note — the ruffled, floral minidress and bird-appliquéd sweater, especially — the pieces seemed to fit in a way that’s challenging for models (and exponentially more so for non-models). Shapeless frocks were big, but not so big that they looked deliberate; silk shirts puckered, and oversized suits pulled awkwardly across chests and hips. 
Photo: MCV Photo.
And to me, all the poetry and “newness” extolled on social media after the show felt like concepts that have been rehashed on runways since Luella Bartley’s reign in 2008. Was it just me, or have we seen this kind of Wes Anderson whimsy (complete with berets and fur jackets) and nebbish-librarians-gone-naughty many times before? Sheer tops, pleated skirts, and printed peacoats were also trends the rest of the industry had already cycled through. But, of course, that kind of thrift-store appeal has revived fellow Kering brand Saint Laurent from a period of sluggish sales in spite of lukewarm critical response.

A break with the past can be a powerful lever for brands to pull — especially for heritage brands wanting to appeal to a younger consumer. But for me, newness only applies when it's new in the entire landscape of fashion, not just for the brand testing it out this time.
Photo: MCV Photo.
For all things Fashion Week around the world — including street style snaps, designer news, and the trends you'd actually wear — head over to Refinery29's Fashion Month hub.   
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