Alessandro Michele has a flair for making fashion feel like religion. Gucci certainly inspires devotion. From its dedicated following (customers on waiting lists to cop the latest drop) and band of disciples (Harry Styles, Florence Welch, Jared Leto et al) through to its charismatic leader (Michele's hair and beard speak for themselves), there's definitely something in the mythological church of Gucci.
It’s apt, then, that the Italian powerhouse’s AW20 show was called 'The Ritual'. An hour before the event, the maverick creative director published the show notes – handwritten in Italian, of course – to Instagram. "I have always considered the fashion show as a magic event bursting with enchantment. A liturgical action that suspends the ordinary, loading it with an excess of intensity. A procession of epiphanies and expanded thoughts that settle into a different partition of the sensible."
This season, in typical Michele fashion, the designer flipped the script and turned the catwalk show inside out. After paying tribute to the beauty and drama of the fashion show, he went on to say: "There’s something though, in this ceremony, that usually stays buried: the struggle of the parturient that accompanies the tremble of creation; the mother’s womb where poetry blooms, from shape to shape. Therefore, I decided to unveil what lies behind the curtains. May the miracle of skilful hands and holding breath come out of the shadows."
An ode to the creative process that we’re rarely privy to, guests found themselves watching a typically off-limits part of the spectacle: the backstage area. Turning the catwalk itself into a rotating stage, behind a tinted screen, models got dressed from rails of hanging clothes. As each model put on their look from the collection, they took their place at the front of the carousel, standing still like mannequins in a shop window as the stage turned around the room.
All of Gucci’s eclectic aesthetic codes were there: pilgrim-esque black dresses with staid white bibs, sweet seafoam suiting, froufrou gowns reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, ‘80s ruffles galore, XXL collars, lashings of costume jewellery and paintbox-bright babydolls and shell tops. Our favourite look, incidentally, was one free of maximalist trappings, but instead a simple white blouse, oversized jeans, and brown shoulder bag.
Thrillingly, prints from the Liberty London archive were also used, while Michele dove deep into the Gucci back-catalogue to reintroduce the Jackie bag, a curved top-handled beauty that he first debuted at the AW20 menswear show last month.
Michele's genius is that he has created a brand with such an identifiable DNA that its latest offering is never about seasonal trends or must-have pieces, but a look – a feel, a mood? – that anyone and everyone can partake in if they wish.
Hypnotic music featuring parade horns and drumroll beats added to the high-octane drama of the show and, as the crescendo swelled, models walked offstage and down a flight of stairs to glide around a surrounding catwalk. As they circled the room, people in grey suits took their places at the carousel’s window. Who are these uniformed men and women? The collection's stylists? Gucci's craftspeople, the ones who bring the collection to life once Michele's vision has been laid out?
Just as the fashion industry was starting to question the role and relevance of fashion month – and the catwalk show more specifically – Alessandro Michele blows old notions out of the water and reminds us that there’s still beauty and awe and meaning in fashion yet.
As the show notes read: "The congregation lingers, awaiting with open hands. A pin drop silence, to receive my uneven heartbeats and my thrills. I offer my poetics to this tribe of emancipated spectators. May they use it to wonder. May they help me understand it. They can use it to reawaken dormant questions."