for queen and gucci
On Thursday afternoon, Westminster Abbey played stage to the Gucci cruise 17 show as Alessandro Michele won over British hearts with a tribute to their own history and culture.
There was perfect irony to the Gucci cruise show that conquered the cloisters at Westminster Abbey on Thursday in London. Here was the most Italian of Italian houses occupying the most sacred of British monuments, capturing in a fashion collection the proud characteristics of an imperial culture, which has historically always been the one to do it to others. Did Henry VIII - famously the first king to defy the almighty Italian pope - turn in his grave at the thought of it all? Luckily for His Majesty, he's buried far away at Windsor, but the daughter who inherited his superiority complex was resting in the chapel just next door. "I'm a big fan of Elizabeth I. She's the first rock star of fashion. Before Cher and Madonna, she invented a way of showing herself. She was the most famous and quirky and glamorous woman of the late Renaissance," Alessandro Michele said after the show, looking rather in his element under the celestial stained glass of a small abbey dome. His heavily bejeweled fingers must have been itching all week to upload every inch of those hallowed halls to his immaculately curated Instagram profile, @lallo25, but like any great British diva, Westminster Abbey asks that you refrain from taking pictures, please.
If there was a time when the Brits would have turned their nose up at some princely, priestly-looking Italian aesthete coming in to appropriate their culture, those days are long gone. After the show, which drew on holy British trademarks from Sherlock Holmes' deerstalker to the Spice Girls' platform boot, they were in heaven - which was appropriate considering the frames of their Royal Peculiar. If Pavarotti had performed The Beatles' greatest hits at Buckingham Palace, Italy couldn't have done a better job at pleasing the notoriously unimpressed Brits. Even when punk elements such as tartan kilts and studded jackets were given Michele's Renaissance-street-style treatment, it never seemed forced or clichéd - at least no more than we already like to be in England. (Tally ho, chap.) The secret to Michele's diplomacy? He fearlessly said English aesthetics aren't the sole property of the Crown. "It's something that belongs a lot to me, too. That's why I decided to show in London. It's the kind of place that's always inspired me, and I think a lot of designers. London is not the kind of fashionable place that's 'the place for fashion.' It's a place where you can see what happens between the people in the streets. And this is really fashionable."
He first came to London at age 17, in the late 80s. "All the little tribes that walked around the city: punk and new punk and old people from the beat generation. I thought it was the place I wanted to live." Since he took the helm at Gucci less than two years ago and reclaimed international glory for the Italian mega house, his take on Italian fashion has been uncannily British. In many ways, this cruise collection was his usual approach turned on its head: instead of seeing Italian aesthetics through an experimental London looking glass, Michele did it the other way around. "I mix and match things that belong to different souls. It's something very inspiring. It belongs a lot to fashion, because fashion is about a big comical experiment. And they," he said, referring to the English, "they are really good. That's why I love it." In a strange turn of events, the London fashion scene we hailed as the industry's most experimental not long ago has now come to a point of commercial gentrification so strong that a Gucci interpretation of Great Britishness delights us as much as when our countrymen Meadham Kirchhoff did the same thing years ago. In that sense, Michele was tapping into something British-ly magical that you don't find anywhere else on the planet.
"It's something that belongs to the past and the contemporary," he said. "The English have this. I always say that you can find a punk who has his cup of tea. I think it's something we have to preserve forever." For Michele, preservation seems to be second nature. He works within the frames of an aesthetic so defined that those fashion spectators - forever hungry for the new - sometimes can't see the forest for the trees. But while Michele already flexed his culturally applicable muscle in his spring/summer 16 women's collection, partly inspired by Berlin in the 70s, this cruise collection seemed to open the eyes of those who had yet to see how much his work changes from collection to collection. His overwhelmingly speedy success over the past year isn't the effect of hype or a one-trick pony, but the product of an experienced designer, who must have been preparing for this moment for his entire career. The handwriting of Alessandro Michele is, in essence, timeless because it encompasses so grand a historical time span in itself. And in that sense, it's some of the most culturally adaptable fashion we've got right now - as demonstrated on Thursday afternoon in Westminster Abbey. "Sweet dreams are made of this," Annie Lennox serenaded him from across her piano at the Gucci party in the evening. You'd be inclined to agree.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Images courtesy of Gucci