Three years ago, Alessandro Michele of Gucci was among the most influential designers in the world. That season in Milan, on a series of moving walkways, he proved it again with a collection that emphasized cut and striking color over an excess of detail. The insurrectionist with the Jesus mane, the man who introduced a nerdy weirdness to fashion, had moved on. “I’m afraid of getting bored,” Michele told reporters at the time. “I always have to try something new.” Indeed, that collection is still wonderful to look at.
It is telling that Michele chose altogether different words to describe his latest effort, which featured 68 pairs of identical twins and was somewhat heavy, both in style and expression. He said things like “clothes are not enough today” and “I’m a slave to objects” and that “trying to do things in a significant way requires a lot of passion.” He also said that fashion has become more complex and that he sometimes questions why he does his job, adding that he shares such thoughts with his therapist.
Michele may well be expressing the modern conditions for a creative director — the machine-like pace, the unending expectations to stay relevant, the obsessive need to represent gender, identity, and other concepts. Under the circumstances, and even with Gucci’s massive design studio, it would be hard to find enough headspace to create genuinely good designs. And that challenge — call it a frustration — seemed to impede Michele on Friday.
Figuratively speaking, the audience was split from its other half by a wall, which was raised at the end of the show to reveal that while one set of twins had been parading before guests, an identical sister or brother — in the same outfit — had been working the other side of the room. Each pair of twins, clasping hands, came together for the finale. And it was beguiling, if not eerie, to see so many duplicate faces, varied in the extreme. Michele and his staff spent months on the casting, he said. Some people were moved to tears, perhaps by the mystery of being a twin and surely by the care that Michele obviously took in the casting. The great Marianne Faithfull, with her raspy, patrician voice, was on the soundtrack.
A number of designers over the years have done collections with twins, the most ingenious being Jun Takahashi’s 2017 show for Undercover, which featured shirts and dresses with the artwork of Cindy Sherman, whose portraits explore notions of self and otherness. With Michele, though, it was difficult to see how twins figured into the actual designs. The pants of two masculine suits were sliced open at the thighs and connected with garter straps. Was the new, feminized version the twin of the classic suit? Perhaps, but it would be a stretch of the imagination.
Although the collection was chock-full of novel-looking items, including boldly patterned python boots, a flashy leather blouson jacket with tiger-striped leggings, nymphette chiffon, adorable denim overalls, and a cool, well-proportioned saddle-style bag from the early ’70s, it failed to give a sense of direction. That’s what one wants from Michele. Not more products, not a reprise of more vintage clothing (please, no), and not an attempt to merchandise to the whole world, with references to England, Japan, China, and parts of North Africa or the Middle East. Perhaps Michele should clear his head and put the real principles of design first.
A few hours later, the designers of Sunnei, Simone Rizzo and Loris Messina, also did a show with twins. Though considerably smaller in scope, Sunnei’s project was far more clever. Half of the models appeared to be guests in the audience but once the show began, one would rise from their seat and step onto the runway. Then each would leave through a white-paneled revolving door, with their better dressed twin spinning out for a turn on the catwalk. It was an effective nod to transformation, plus the clothes — balloon pants and jumpsuits in bright colors, a lovely cotton halter tunic with a fat cord at the neck and matching pants — were charmingly down-to-earth.
Sportmax was a woozy mess of shapes — stretch tops missing a sleeve, T-shirts with extra-long sleeves, harem and tube skirts, oval breast patches on knits — chasing the idea of experimentation. I hate when designers attempt to evoke an anarchic spirit without having a sensibility behind it or at least something valuable to say. It feels dishonest.
Prince was on the soundtrack at Versace. Why Prince? Maybe because, back in the day, Prince was a friend of Gianni Versace’s and his sister Donatella. He stayed at their villa on Lake Como, as I recall. Donatella’s latest romp — which closed with Paris Hilton hoofing it down the glossy runway — covered the Versace standards, notably slinky black jersey dresses, lots of black leather slung with belts, a cute purple mini slip fringed with streamers, and a pair of lace-edged goddess gowns. But it was mostly trendy and formulaic, without the former jolt of surprise and mastery, and I couldn’t help but think of Gianni, that his legacy has come to this.
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