Designer Profile

Revisiting Alessandro Michele’s Gucci Mind

Alessandro Michele. Courtesy of Gucci.

The label’s former creative director held one of his last interviews with the brand, sharing his design process and creative aspirations.

Milan Fashion Week Men’s show is officially back. Opening with Gucci fall-winter 23 Men’s fashion show featuring archival staples, minimal silhouettes, and sleek tailoring, this marks the first show by the Italian fashion brand after Alessandro Michele’s sudden exit. This prompted onlookers a déjà vu when Frida Giannini left Gucci back in January 2015, giving space for Michele to ascend.

When the unassuming Alessandro Michele rose into the creative firmament of Gucci, no one was more shocked but him. “I wasn’t even on the list,” Michele says, as he shocked the industry after several big names were expected to bag the creative director role.

Spending most of his time behind-the-scenes, he started his career at Fendi as a senior accessory designer after graduating from Accademia di Costume e di Moda in Rome. Training under the former Gucci creative director Frida Giannini, he assumed an amplifying role under the creative department.

After the then CEO Di Marco left, Marco Bizarri replaced him as president and CEO of Gucci. Bizarri looked inward and chose someone from the existing creative team. He was appointed by Kering to continue the job. “Based upon the contemporary vision he has articulated for the brand that he will now bring to life,” says Bizzarri. Together, they reinvented the superbrand and touched on many historical aspects of the Italian house.

Today, no one in the room needs to be reminded of the place that Alessandro Michele holds in today’s fashion landscape. Transforming Gucci into one of the most influential fashion brands of our time, he reinforced a world of eclecticism and eccentricity through his body of works—from his Gucci Twinsburg fashion show to the enduring albeit audacious campaigns as presented at the Gucci Garden Archetypes exhibition. Bringing self-expression, inclusivity, and diversity to represent its founding values. “Under his guiding hand, Gucci has become a byword for new luxury,” according to fashion writer and commentator Glynis Traill-Nash.

Starting point

Michele’s maximalist approach seems to come from different dawnings but when asked about his starting point in developing a new concept, he recalls it being a “thread” with succeeding chapters. “The campaign is often the follow up of a show and each fashion show is connected to the previous fashion show. So, those are a thread,” the designer says.

“It is always present, even if it’s not always easy to see the connection between one campaign and the other. But I always try to see in my advertising campaign that way. Maybe the connection, the link is not so explicit. It’s not so evident. But the campaign is something I want to say for people to understand what I want to do.”

Following each message after another message for every campaign, Michele’s work is never distinct nor separated. “I work in a very cinematic way and for this reason, the advertising campaign is the following chapter. The chapter after the show is like a theater play, and the clothes have become the costume of that play. The advertising campaign is the following chapter in the book. This is my way of working. I never stop thinking about what is happening inside this story. And [even] after the advertising campaign, I keep thinking about the next step,” says Michele.

One campaign in particular with personal significance to Alessandro and perhaps marks a significant moment in the evolution of his visual signature at Gucci has something to do with objects. “Many of those campaigns represent something to me. Maybe the one which is the most close to me is the one concerning collectors. This obsession with objects, this worshiping of objects—and the idea of living, collecting, accumulating objects. I think that campaign was designed because I have a special relationship to objects, and I think that my work also means having a relationship to the physical objects surrounding us.”

Vogue Philippines fashion director Pam Quiñones at Gucci Gardens. @pamquinones
The designer conducts an interview during Gucci Gardens. @pamquinones

Vogue Philippines Fashion Director Pam Quiñones asked Michele about his craft and what fuels his design process. “My answer could be everything. I mean, there’s nothing that is excluded. From the ocean of the information I use while creating or designing. As to the second part of the question, my working process, [and] my system is not stereotyped. As the process is not always the same. In general, when I prepare for a show or a campaign, but in particular when I work on a fashion show, I think about people, states of mind, moods, places, a film,” he says.

Copies of copies

Central to Gucci Garden Archetypes is the ongoing narrative of copies. “The multiplication of copies from the original as opposed to the idea of fashion because fashion is the multiplication of things (of which are all original.) Art in the contemporary world has somehow banned the idea of copies or replicas saying that the original is the only thing that matters, but actually we live in a world where there’s a multiplication of things which are very similar or which are the same.”

Alessandro expressed that “in the ancient world, the idea of copy was really accepted.” Dissecting his relationship with objects, he looks at them in a very “critical way” since “if we consider some objects very special, then sometimes, we discover that there are thousands of similar objects.”

Alessandro Michele and actor Jared Leto on the red carpet. Getty Images

“The copy had its own dignity and they had a very different idea when talking about originals. So in the world, not only in the western world, wherever you go, there’s a strange relationship between originals and copies, and multiplication of the same thing,” he continues.

When working on personalities, faces, bodies as he put them together in a campaign, it’s a work of composition. “It’s a chemical process. Somehow you choose some products, some agents that go together with other agents to produce a reaction so that when they are all together, they do produce something different: a chemical reaction, and this is my way of working,” Michele explains.

Constantly looking for impossible dialogues from the physical and the social points of view to produce a different way of thinking, Alessandro puts people together to get a result. “Sometimes there’s an explosion, sometimes you realize that something is going to happen inside you. When you look at that combination of people, And I mean, human beings are very interesting when you try and create a dialogue among them even when you might think that those people have nothing to say to each other.”

Flamboyance and the color pink

When asked about the significance of pink in the exhibition, Michele looked back eight years ago. “When I started working for Gucci, I started using this color very often. “It is a color which is connected to the emotional side of human beings. A color that many people had to give up to ban, to remove. Many women stopped using pink because it was considered—I wouldn’t say an outdated color—but not a refined color, not an elegant color.”

“In my opinion, it’s beautiful, it’s tender. It’s the color of the sunset, and the color of flowers. It’s a poetic color. So I used it for the exhibition in Florence, the Gucci garden was really born with this color in mind. And this also means being different. If you wear pink, you are different and you have a different way of thinking. And then now, you make me think about this more in-depth because it’s a concept that is clear to me, but it’s difficult to explain,” Michele continues.

After his term as Gucci creative director, many asked if his flamboyance is timeless or if it’s for the moment. Examining if he sees his vision lasting, he initially found it hard to define, “because I do what I am. I [do] what I’m living and I narrate what I see. So it’s very difficult for me to define what I’m doing. I don’t think that fashion can always remain the same. Sometimes when you work on something or when you experience something, things change without you realizing it. And the past creative directors have created a language that always changes. Fashion is unpredictable. I do try and manage it sometimes. But I can’t say much more about this.”

“future in the past”

As much as the phrase “future in the past” is contradicting, Alessandro thinks otherwise. “I think this phrase is very appropriate for everything because everything is the past and everything is the present and so it sounds very appropriate to me. I mean, I see those two things together,” Michele expressed.

“Two sentences you have mentioned can also be reversed. It is still meaningful. There’s no present without the past. And what happened is still here somehow, so if it is true that “fashion is now” then “fashion is also what has already been.”

“I never studied philosophy, but I think that philosophy can really describe life very well. Fashion belongs to the world because it is part of our daily life. So, sometimes, we are a bit afraid of the past yet the past is very much connected to our present. And this is something that I have explored in-depth, and I like exploring this topic because Gucci is also like this,” he says.

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