As models in head-to-toe white rolled out on a conveyor belt in a show space best described as airport terminal meets surgical room, it became clear that change is afoot at Gucci. Where was the drama? The Byzantine metallics, the abundance of botanics and plethora of colour? Met with a fashion moment so in contrast to previous seasons, editors at Milan Fashion Week SS20 referred to creative director Alessandro Michele’s statement:
"Can [fashion] offer itself as an instrument of resistance? Can it suggest experiential freedom, ability to transgress and disobey, emancipation and self-determination? Or fashion itself risks to become a refined device of neo-liberal government that ends up imposing a new normativity, turning freedom into a commodity and emancipation into a broken promise?" Self-reflection and the desire for personal emancipation are clearly on Michele’s mind this season.
Arguably the most dominant voice in fashion – both within and outside the industry – everything Michele has presented since taking the helm in 2015 has been a resounding success, both in influence and from a business perspective (Gucci has doubled its revenue over the past four years). From the collectable accessories that became the brand’s bread and butter – think horsebit loafers, three-stripe trainers and interlocking GG belts – to wider aesthetic hallmarks like vintage, maximalism and a breakdown of gender boundaries, maybe Michele feels restricted by his own creations.
The models' white uniforms certainly looked like straitjackets (perhaps the most shocking and controversial opening to one of Michele’s shows so far) but rather than a symbol of Michele breaking free from his globally recognised aesthetic, perhaps they were posed as more of a sartorial palate-cleanser, a prelude to new beginnings. What he initially laid out as 'freedom' and 'emancipation' (which blew the dominant normcore aesthetic out of the water, and which we’ve seen most recently in his Gucci Beauty campaigns, a 'fuck you' to established beauty standards) is perhaps the 'commodity' and 'broken promise' he talks of in his SS20 notes.
So what does Gucci 2.0 look like? The looks that followed certainly looked and felt like the Gucci we know, albeit more refined and considered. Michele’s maximalist trademarks were all there: jewel-encrusted insects, bug-like sunglasses, neon-hemmed lace slips and plaid-on-fringing-on-sequins. But where before there was no limit to what made an outfit, the pieces were given space to breathe. The most thrilling looks were the simplest: a green column dress offset with black tights and gloves, a ‘70s blouse tucked into flared denim, a rust-hued two-piece suit.
Perhaps most refreshing of all, with the SS20 collection Michele has proved he can remove himself from the circus that is Gucci’s global brand by paring back, simplifying and streamlining – without losing any of his Midas touch.