Photography Paige Powell. Courtesy of Gucci

Gucci and Gus Van Sant craft an ethereal cinematic world

With a little help from Harry Styles, Jeremy O. Harris and Billie Eilish, the cultural giants venture far beyond the boundaries of fashion film.

by Douglas Greenwood
23 November 2020, 12:41pm

Photography Paige Powell. Courtesy of Gucci

It is what dreams are made of: a Rome adorned with characters lifted from the pages of a picture book, dressed beautifully, exploring a world a little more heightened than the one we live in. It is Alessandro Michele’s Gucci in delicious motion: a seven-part series that has been broadcast nightly over the past week, slowly revealing their latest collection. It’s titled Ouverture of Something That Never Ended; the tentpole affair in the brand’s brilliant cinematic endeavour, GucciFest

If Alessandro is the king of gorgeous ostentation, then who better to harness and interpret his vision on screen than a man known for channelling whimsy into something still earthbound? Enter Gus Van Sant, the American arthouse auteur known for his surrealist edge to gritty, lifelike dramas; everything from his Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix-starring hustler movie My Own Private Idaho to his Cannes award-winning high school psycho-drama, Elephant

It was the former that first brought Gus to Alessandro’s attention. Shot 30 years ago, My Own Private Idaho, now considered a cult classic, famously transported its iconic leads from Portland, Oregon to the streets of Rome, before venturing out to the Italian countryside. It made an indelible impression on the Roman artistic director, who was just 18 when Hollywood’s greatest matinee idols temporarily walked the same streets that he did. A merging of worlds that seemed impossible -- the ornate fantasy of Rome and the edge of American indie -- suddenly came to life. 

And so it’s with that coalescence that Ouverture of… arrives, watchable from our homes though just as worthy of being projected onto cinema screens the world over. A seven-part mini-series that sees a woman named Silvia’s life in Rome unfold as she journeys from her apartment out into the world: to cafes and theatres and post offices and beyond. There are a few constants. One is the meandering lens of cinematographer Andrew Doyle, a former collaborator of Gus Van Sant known best for his work with Wong Kar-wai on In The Mood For Love. The other is the painterly nature of the garments featured: none are costumey, but adhere to the sense of elevated fantasy Gucci so famously creates.

From films one through seven, we watch Silvia saunter through life, stopping to have brief, philosophical conversations with characters who populate the same landscape, or eavesdrop on what others do. In episode five, we peer through the windows of people who aren’t up to much at all. In episode three, all we witness is the gentle happenings of a post office queue. There’s a gorgeous, languid lack of drive to it. Much like most of Gus Van Sant’s work, it’s powered not by our desires to reach an endpoint, but to revel in a world where mundanity ceases to exist. Here, Alessandro and Gus allow us to luxuriate in a day at a slow and meaningful pace.

But that doesn’t mean that Ouverture… exists in the prettified world of fashion film, where clothes render all other elements obsolete. Instead, this feels like an ethereal meeting of several worlds: fashion, film and grounded everyday reality. A script exists, written by Gus, and it delves into moments of moving pathos that bring meaning to the reasons we’re spending time in the company of Silvia and her friends. The appearances from recognisable faces -- everybody from Harry Styles to Florence Welch have roles here -- are not shoehorned in, but are woven into the fabric of it all, playing roles rather than being billed as cameos. 

Each episode, when broadcast during Guccifest, was bookended by the work of a young filmmaker and designer coming together to fulfil a similar crossover concept, a key element in Gucci’s continued ethos of lifting up breaking talent. Central Saint Martins MA Fashion student Gui Rosa created fantastical crocheted garments and presented them within the metropolitan context of high-rise-lined London streets, in a film directed by close collaborator Harry Freegard. Bianca Saunders created a film with director Akinola Davies Jr that explored the concept of the ‘perfect man’. Shanel Campbell explored Afrofuturism in her self-directed work. 

It all ties together to form one of the most innovative displays of a new collection a fashion house has pioneered in quite some time — by turns conceptual, multi-faceted, and altruistic — all while remaining in keeping with Gucci’s singular style of creativity. But it works because it goes beyond what many may consider it’s sole purpose: to sell clothes. With that just one part of Ouverture of Something That Never Ended’s fabric, we can envision Alessandro’s legacy stretching beyond fashion in future. He has always been a designer with the soul of someone who lives and breathes the fantasy of cinema too. Here, his loves combine.