Gucci's first menswear show in three years was a tribute to masculinity and youth
“I wanted to be back in time, to be a child again. Childhood is a time when you are free and there are fewer labels, you can be yourself. When you grow up you get told how you’re going to behave.”
Photography Mitchell Sams
Fashion is nothing if not a pendulum swinging back and forth. Trends come and go (and come again, and go again). The return of something is continuously being heralded. Maximalism one minute, minimalism the next; monochrome or neon; glamour or grunge. At Gucci’s menswear show in Milan, its first since going co-ed on the womenswear schedule three years ago, a giant Foucauldian pendulum swung in the middle of the Elizabethan-style amphitheatre.
Backwards and forwards it went, until the show started, when it began to went all over the place, not unlike Alessandro Michele’s ever-wondering eye for disparate references (preferably all at once). But a pendulum is also a symbol of time, which was just as fitting as the designer wound back the clock to his childhood, examining the freedom and naivety of youth as a way of re-piecing the concept of ‘masculinity’ at a time when the term is usually preceded by the word ‘toxic’.
Hence shrunken proportions of babydoll dresses, gingham smocks, Little Lord Fauntleroy breeches and variations on traditional school uniforms, worn with biscuit-tin bags and classroom sandals. “I wanted to be back in time, to be a child again,” Alessandro explained. “Childhood is a time when you are free and there are fewer labels, you can be yourself. When you grow up you get told how you’re going to behave.”
His idea was that masculinity needs to be re-rooted relearnt to create a better world for men and women, and it needs to be addressed at an early age. “The toxic violence of masculinity is based on stereotypes which is dangerous for both men and women. It enslaves men and oppresses women. When we were in kindergarten we were all on the same footing as children —we were allowed to be ourselves. When you grow up, you get told how you’re going to behave.”
In the five years since his first show — can you believe it’s only been five years? — Michele has dramatically shifted fashion’s parameters, most significantly ushering in gender-fluidity to the mainstream. “It was interesting because I had this opportunity of coming back to Milan and to reconsider my past,” he said.
When he sent out boys in pussy-bow blouses and fur-lined slippers for his debut show (a menswear one nonetheless) it was a spontaneous moment that captured the zeitgeist, more so than girls in men’s suiting. Seemingly overnight, it snowballed into a quixotic universe that has reconfigured the gender and style for Gen Z, becoming the sartorial soundtrack of a wider iPhone-era identity-political movement. “Little by little, I realised things had a meaning and weight even in a world that is free, like fashion.” Now, it just seems second nature, so much so that this collection could have been yet another co-ed show.
In equal measure, he established a craze for genre-hopping opulence, everything embellished or laden with logos. This show was also significant in that it marked a continuation of Alessandro dialling it all back, something he started at his last womenswear show. Instead, there were clothes that looked old, not just sentimentally vintage. Grass-stained slouchy denim came with tattered hole and moth-eaten sweaters, while jackets were too-big and jumpers too-small as if they were childhood hand-me-downs.
That’s a powerful image at a time in which second-hand shopping is considered the most sustainable form of consumerism. If this show was about going back to the simplicity of childhood, to the optimism of youth, then it manifested in a more streamlined — you could even say ‘grown-up’ — vision for Gucci and its non-toxic men.