Gucci: In the Line of Fire

Candles flickering beside ancient stone tombs, a line of fire running down the dusty pathway and a church silhouetted against the dying light – that was the atmospheric Gucci Cruise 2019 show, held in the southern French city of Arles.

It was an evening of magic and wonder, as figures walked the Alyscamps – an ancient Roman necropolis – wearing the crucifix as an essential memento mori, the feather as another symbol, and a dancing devil motif taken from Hollywood’s Château Marmont – all part of the tangle of historic references from Creative Director Alessandro Michele.

By the time the designer was sitting in jeans among the audience, swaying his long hair to the rhythm of Elton John’s live performance, there was a sense of wide-eyed wonder. Gucci had pulled off the most dramatic show, completing the trilogy of Cruise collections following Dior in Paris, Louis Vuitton in Cannes, and now the Italian designer’s walk on the wild side.

The fact that it had been raining buckets all day in Arles, but the heavens closed just for the length of the show, made it an extraordinary feat on every level. And that’s not to mention the more than 100 outfits, including historic capes, schoolgirl jackets, a bodice made out of bones, wisps of feathers, bouquets of dying flowers, and a sense that mourning regalia had switched from traditional black to pink – as well as the realisation that menswear is in a new, fiery, gender-neutral world.

Michele was quick to point out that the Alyscamps in this ancient area was not quite the noble historic burial ground it seemed – and that a mash-up of history is just how he likes it.

“Alyscamps has a rock’n’roll soul, it has a gothic look, and in the 1700s this place was fashionable to visit,” he explained, insisting in a tumble of show notes that “Alyscamps is a Roman cemetery, but it’s not a cemetery; it was a promenade, then it became a walk in 1700. It is a hybrid place that has several significances.”

But Michele – who also touched on the macabre in his Autumn/Winter 2018 show, which had models walk out holding replicas of their own heads – admitted that he sees “death as fascination”.

How does all this ghoulish stuff, some suggesting a crazy Halloween night, fit with a luxury brand? Perfectly! Breaking apart the cornucopia of clothes and accessories, here was a cloak, there a sports shoe. Funky accessories melded with fabulous florals. Patterns ranged from sweet 18th-century meadow flowers to 1970s Pop-Art patterns. Priestly cloaks swished by while other pieces for both sexes were body conscious and brief.

From this abundance comes the glory of Gucci. It makes a massive fashion statement and sells a mass of goods for the Kering parent company, whose sales are zooming upwards with dizzying speed.

François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and CEO Kering, said that one important part of the inter-season shows is that the company invites clients, making sense of the concept of a stand-alone spectacle, rather than a show crammed amongst others. “Without the constraint of other shows, it can be more of an event,” Pinault said.

Although Michele’s essence is in the spirit of Rome, ancient or modern, Marco Bizzarri, Gucci’s President and CEO, confirmed that the next Gucci show will take place during the Paris Ready-to-Wear season.

In the intricacy of detail that cannot be seen on stage, Michele has embroidered the words of Dante’s Divine Comedy as decoration on the clothes. And there is certainly a divine fashion comedy in Michele’s mix of rappers and priests; of Billy Idol and Elton John, whom Gucci will dress for his three-year farewell tour. To take one of those archaic words that Michele embraces, this splendid, powerful and thrilling Gucci show proved Michele is a fashion alchemist who can stir up a magical mix.