gucci unmasked at milan fashion week
Spiked Venetian masks, nails, and an apology.
Photography Mitchell Sams
Shown against an unrelenting 120,000 LED-powered light show that blinded the frow, and soundtracked by a thumping and rousing remix of Gabriel’s Message, Gucci presented a sartorially-focussed autumn/winter 19 collection that mused on the power of clothes as masks of identity.
There were headline grabbing spiked Venetian masks and Halloween-ready stylings. The show invitation was a papier-mâché mask of Hermaphroditus, the two-sex child of Hermes and Aphrodite, a symbol of androgyny, delivered in a straw-lined wooden crate. So far, so Gucci, right?
From dinosaurs and aliens to cartoons and sparkles, baby dragons to chip shops, anything and everything has been welcome in the Gucci pluriverse as the creative director fuses the antique and sombre, the glam with the pop and trashy. Season after season, Alessandro Michele’s far-reaching encyclopedia of references take us across cultures, centuries and continents. From Ancient Rome to 70s London, Ancient Greece to Instagram, more has always been more. For autumn/winter 19, there was a shift in mood.
As ever, Alessandro gave us plenty to ponder, details to lose ourselves in, clothes to daydream about, but underneath the theatrical stylings, this was an almost subdued collection that celebrated the protective power of the suit. “The masks were a metaphor to explore garments and what they say about us in real life,” Alessandro explained post-show. Away from the lights and mirrored show set, Alessandro was reminding us that the entire world’s a stage, and clothes are our costumes.
Each show provides an Alessandro-approved reading list and for autumn/winter 19, this time Gucci recommended the musings of German philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition and her thoughts on masks.
“Hannah Arendt reminds us that we are persons when we choose the mask through which we appear on the world’s stage,” Alessandro’s extensive show notes explained. Whether consciously or not, in the digital landscape or the real world, we all wear masks. At times to hide who we are. At times to reveal who we truly are. “We define our subjectivity and our ethical and political placement through this shared appearance scene,” his notes continued. “When we show ourselves on the public scene we reveal ourselves to each other in our plural identities. The visibility space therefore represents the condition of possibility of being together and, at the same time, different.”
This was the first show since the blackface scandal which saw a balaclava knit with a cutout mouth and pronounced red lips, from the autumn/winter 2018 collection, removed from stores after a social media backlash. In a letter shared with Gucci employees earlier this month, Alessandro detailed his own pain and “that of the people who saw in one of my creative projects an intolerable insult”, before explaining that the item in question was an homage to the late Leigh Bowery, a performance artist, club promoter and fashion designer from the 80s that continues to inspire. When asked about the incident post-show, Alessandro explained that from his remorse, he will learn something. “We will learn a lesson and this company will do things in a different way,” he repeated. Fashion can, should and must do better in its cultural representation and diversity across the industry needs to be strengthened. Marco Bizzarri, Gucci’s chief executive recently announced a series of initiatives designed to embed cultural awareness and diversity in the company. While some apologies can easily be read as cynical acts of damage limitation, Alessandro’s words seemed heartfelt.
Photography Mitchell Sams