This season, marred by post-pandemic questions of the fashion industry’s ethics, relevance and survival, brands from Prada to Jacquemus have had to adapt and serve up their own take on what a catwalk show looks like in a COVID-19 world.
Prada produced five short films under the title ‘The Show That Never Happened’ for Miuccia’s swan song as solo creative director, while Jacquemus transported us once again to the dreamy fields of France, this time a wheat crop just outside of Paris. For Gucci's Alessandro Michele, though, giving his fans a 360° digital experience is familiar territory. For AW20, just weeks before the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak an international concern back in February, Gucci flipped the traditional show format on its head by turning the typically-off-limits backstage area into the catwalk itself.
Michele has seemingly been one step ahead of the world’s changing moods during lockdown. The brand’s Pre-Fall 2020 campaign, ‘So Deer To Me,’ saw models frolicking in parks with woodland creatures, as close as high fashion could come in predicting our lockdown desires to reconnect with nature via gardening and government-sanctioned daily walks. Now, it appears as though the creative director’s new-found return to wholesome pursuits has gone one step further. While we've been busy with our lockdown habits of baking bread, embracing cottagecore, and growing courgettes on our window sills, Michele has been creating the brand's next collection. Named 'Epilogue' and concluding the narrative arc following on from last season's ‘An Unrepeatable Ritual’, it's Michele's way of inviting us into Gucci’s very own secret garden.
Unfolding today at Rome’s gilded and golden late-Mannerist Palazzo Sacchetti, a live stream began at 7am this morning, giving the brand’s devotees a glimpse of the pre-show behind-the-scenes action and the mechanics of the collection’s advertising campaign. This season Michele’s own Gucci design team modelled the collection, both a smart way to avoid putting working models in potential danger, and to encourage us to remember the human effort behind the clothes we love. In the grand rooms we saw his team having their hair and makeup done, photographers setting up shoot angles, and showrunners putting the final props in place; outside in the romantic gardens, a scene not unlike a Beatrix Potter story unfolded: rafts of ducks squawked, models lay down in blankets of flowerbeds, and giant vegetables were strewn across the paths. Everyone wore face coverings and PPE, reminding us that, even in the most dream-like setting, the New Normal™ will always be shrouded by the threat of the virus. Around 1pm, the livestream flickered into action, taking us from bucolic escape to retro techscape: after a digitally-manipulated voice read the show notes to us, Michele appeared to say:
“The collection, in short, is the end of the beginning of an experiment. It’s an attempt to use fashion as a space, in particular as an experimental lab. And this is my experiment. Narrating it this way, and presenting it this way, to the press, to the outside world, looking inside the mechanism of an advertising campaign like a peeping tom, is interesting to me as an element that dissociates the narrative of fashion from the show, from the representation of itself.”
Then, like Cher’s digital closet in ‘90s rom-com Clueless, photographs of the models appeared on screens to the beep-bleeping sounds of an old PC starting up. All of Gucci’s trademarks were present, from more-is-more accessories spanning printed silk head scarves and costume-like jewellery, to grandpa-inspired staples like argyle knitwear and corduroy slacks, via prim-and-proper ladylike twin-sets, pearls and heeled mules. The beauty of Gucci, of course, is all of it thrown together in a complex amalgamation of curated details, a vision Michele manages to keep interesting after all this time. Once we’d seen the looks in full, the livestream cut back to the ornate walls and ceilings of the Palazzo and the bustling hum of the backstage.
People can watch the livestream all day - it will run 12 hours in total - as well as listen to a Spotfiy playlist curated by Michele as an “audio representation” of the collection (Daughter, Morrissey, Grizzly Bear, DIIV and Duran Duran feature.) We’ll also be treated to the campaign images, shot by photographer Alec Soth in front of the graffiti-covered walls of Rome’s Campo Boario. Sure, we didn’t see any models walking down a catwalk in the collection’s clothes, but did we need to? Michele has always been a master of styling — the art of teaming a chevron stripe with white opaque tights, a raffia hat with a latex glove — and his Gucci campaigns always spotlight irreverent settings, conceptual visions and well-chosen models. In simply showing us the mechanics of bringing a collection to its audience, he stripped the fashion show of its pomp and ego and proved that the environmental, financial and human toll of fashion month is more than outdated. With coronavirus putting the traditional catwalk show on hold, events like this lay bare its costly and ephemeral truth.
This may be “the beginning of the end” of Gucci’s experiment, but we’re excited to see which of fashion’s boundaries Michele breaks next. As he says in his closing notes, this moment is "A watershed that closes and opens at the same time, a threshold of a new beginning, from which we try to imagine our tomorrow."