In May, amid lockdown orders as a result of the pandemic, Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, announced that the brand would reduce the number of fashion shows it holds every year from five to two. In online diary entries, titled Notes from the Silence, Michele wrote, “I will abandon the worn-out ritual of seasonalities and shows to regain a new cadence, closer to my expressive call. We will meet just twice a year, to share the chapters of a new story. Irregular, joyful and absolutely free chapters, which will be written blending rules and genres, feeding on new spaces, linguistic codes and communication platforms.”
Six months later, the Italian luxury brand has returned with GucciFest, a seven-day virtual fashion and film event running from November 16 to 22. During the mini-festival, not only is Gucci debuting its new collection through a series of short films, co-directed by filmmaker Gus Van Sant and Michele, but it's also screening films by 15 other independent, young designers that are making a mark on the fashion industry.
OUVERTURE of Something that Never Ended — presented in the form of a seven-episode mini-series released over the course of the week — is notable for its approach to showcasing a new collection; it’s made even more buzz-worthy with appearances from A-listers and Gucci faces like Billie Eilish, Harry Styles (who appeared in jorts in Wednesday’s episode!), and Florence Welch. But what makes the event truly unexpected is the brand’s sharing of the platform with (and, as such, endorsement of) up-and-coming designers. So far, we’ve seen films from sustainably-minded brands like Collina Strada and Rave Review; labels that have been known to push the boundaries of gender and identity like Bianca Saunders, Mowalola, and Ahluwalia; and decidedly modern names like Gui Rosa, Rui, and Cormio. Put together by Michele and “proudly supported by the House,” the brand list rounds out with Shanel Campbell, Stefan Cooke, Charles De Vilmorin, JordanLuca, Yueqi Qi, Boramy Viguier, and Gareth Wrighton, whose films have yet to air.
“The opportunity to create a film with the support of Gucci is a lifetime opportunity,” British designer Priya Ahluwalia, the creative force behind her namesake label, tells Refinery29. Having never made a film before, she saw the partnership as an “opportunity to explore a new creative outlet” for her and the brand. Her menswear brand — that often pays tribute to her Nigerian and Indian heritage and is frequently inspired by growing up in South London in the ‘90s — specialises in patchwork-like designs, vibrant prints, and immaculate tailoring. Directed by Samona Olanipekun, the film Joy showcases these signature styles. More impactfully though, it serves as a celebration of Black culture and features a multigenerational cast of community leaders, poets, political activists, and more.
“I have always thoroughly researched periods of Black liberation and those individuals who sought to gain it. I have so many books in my studio, and there is a certain selection that I go back to all the time. One of them is about Black teenagers in the ’70s and ‘80s, and I started to wonder what they were up to now, and how the families of people that were integral to the U.K. Black civil rights movement are doing now,” Ahluwalia says about the film. “[Olanipekun and I] decided we wanted to celebrate how amazing Black culture is and how we are allowed to express it because of the people who have fought hard before us. The film was really about the cast and all their individual stories and identities and how they relate to Black liberation.”
For her film Collina Land, New York-based Collina Strada, which has long used its NYFW time slot to raise climate awareness, created a video game in which models took on the roles of avatars and explored different worlds. “[There are] five levels — Desert World, Farm World, Ice World, Drawing World, and Underwater World — each with climate change objectives,” says the brand founder, Hillary Taymour, of the film that sees models planting virtual trees and chasing after an oversized squash. While the brand has previously done a film for its NYFW Spring 2021 presentation (which was similarly delightful and trippy), Taymour says she was “honoured to be a part of” the event. “GUCCIFEST is a new unique idea” Taymour explains. “They loved all the ideas I had and allowed me to just go for it which was a freeing experience.”
Another brand that tackled sustainability with its film is Stockholm-based label Rave Review. Known for embracing environmentally-friendly processes like upcycling, Jord, luft, eld, vatten (which translates to Earth, air, fire, water) touches on the relationship between fashion and nature — and shows an enviable array of winter-perfect coats. “The film manifests our core — sustainability in a subtle way. It’s an urban tribute to nature and earth but also to the power of standing out from a mass, by wearing a message for change,” say Rave Review’s Josephine Bergqvist and Livia Schück. According to them, when Gucci approached the brand to participate, they didn’t hesitate with their answer: “We saw it as a great opportunity to showcase in a cool context to a big audience.”
Since the pandemic took hold, many designers have taken a step back to reassess their production practices, physical runway shows, and the archaic fashion calendar that encourages designers to put out collection after collection at a breakneck speed. Some, like Gucci, have opted out of the Fashion Month calendar to do a show on their own terms. Others have embraced more sustainable and transparent production practices, unable to ignore any longer the harmful effects that fashion overproduction has on the environment. And while a sense of collaboration has likewise been in the fashion air this year — in part maybe because of the Dries Van Noten-led open letter, signed by some of fashion’s biggest brands and retail names and calling for change in the industry; in part maybe because of the news that Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons would serve as co-creative directors at Prada — it’s still unexpected to see a partnership of this kind. Designer collaborations (like the forthcoming The North Face x Gucci collection) aside, it’s uncommon to see an established luxury brand share its platform and audience with not only younger designers, but also those whose aesthetic is different from their own.
“Meeting [the designers], I had the feeling of being an ‘us:’ We are all doing the same job. It was an interesting dialogue, the designers have their ears to the ground and are very aware,” Michele said at the Ouverture Press Conference ahead of the premiere. “We believe collaborating like this is the future,” say Bergqvist and Schück about why they were excited to have Rave Review participate. “Brands and designers should come together more as it questions a sometimes a bit excluding and elitist fashion system. In this way, Gucci uses their big influence in a very forward-thinking way.”
Watch Gucci’s OUVERTURE of Something that Never Ended episodes, as well as the designer films, as they drop every day until Sunday at GucciFest.