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EXCLUSIVE: Alessandro Michele on Change, Experiments and Taking Risks

·7 min read

MILAN — Alessandro Michele doesn’t have everything figured out — in the best sense of the term — as he says he likes to experiment, following his instinct, trying “to understand where the wind blows.”

This has served him well in his role as creative director of Gucci, reinventing the brand with his quirky and androgynous aesthetic and putting the label back on the fashion map.

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His influence is being recognized by the British Fashion Council, as Michele was bestowed the Trailblazer Award at The Fashion Awards 2021 at London’s Royal Albert Hall for his “visionary work to date in positioning Gucci at the intersection of culture, art, music and film,” as the BFC said.

“If I had received the award exclusively for my work in fashion, I would have appreciated it, because prizes are always welcome, but this is a next step and an important recognition,” an upbeat Michele told WWD ahead of the event. “I think it’s important because in the work I do, even when things are apparently banal, there’s always the idea to communicate something, to experiment, to take a step forward, to give a different perspective and overturn things.”

The designer admitted “there’s always a risk and the company is also taking risks” whenever a new course is mapped out, but he underscored that he treats “the platform that I have been given for a brand that is so popular as a laboratory. My life is a laboratory. Work is a piece of my life and it’s hard for me to separate work and life. It’s all very intense, as it is for anyone who does not simply execute [their job].”

In giving the award, the BFC cited the different formats Michele has employed to present Gucci’s latest collections — for example, the Aria show last April, which celebrated the brand’s centenary and introduced the Balenciaga hacker project. This followed his decision to change the pace of the Gucci collections a year earlier, naming them after the music world. In another surprising move, earlier this month he staged the Love Parade collection in Los Angeles, paying tribute to Hollywood and the world of movies.

“The creative risks keep us alive and push us to open up conversations and exchange opinions,” contended Michele.

Now the designer is getting ready to return to Milan in February as Gucci will be part of the city’s official fashion week schedule, as reported. During the year, Gucci will also stage two more runway shows, in late spring and in September.

The brand’s last show during Milan Fashion Week dates back to February 2020 to present the fall 2020 women’s collection.

Addressing Gucci’s return to Milan, the designer admitted “someone could say Alessandro Michele says one thing and does another, but I did what I thought and felt was necessary to do and say in that specific moment. I don’t want to be alternative for the sake of it. I have been transparent with myself and with the company and always shared my thoughts with the organization.”

Holding the Love Parade show in Los Angeles, despite the difficulties in organizing the event at a time when some COVID-19 restrictions still stand, was a stimulus for Michele, bringing an extra dose of energy to the designer and a taste of things to come. The show in Los Angeles “was also an experiment, we found a way to prove that we could return to do something that until recently was unthinkable.”

“It became an urgency to return to Milan,” explained Michele. “I would be lying if I thought it will be the same forever, but it’s necessary at this moment. Maybe today nothing is forever because it’s the world we live in and we must learn from this.”

In addition, Milan is “a powerful symbol” for Michele, the city where he has grown professionally, he said. “It’s nice to go back to a familiar pace with the others. Rules never help. It’s like rekindling a relationship after a break, or going back home to your mom. The city is very significant for me and for the company, as is Italy. The discontinuity before was out of necessity, and did not signify a lack of respect. At a moment like this, continuity is important.”

For the interview, Michele took a break from working on the coed collection to be presented in Milan. “I am starting from where I left off in Los Angeles and from the suit, which I admit is one of my obsessions — as are all things that sparkle.”

The designer’s career spans over some 26 years, and before taking on his current role in 2015, there were “rigid rules that never changed” in fashion when it came to presenting the collections.

During the pandemic last year, change became “necessary when we were all in silence, imprisoned at home, discovering a different life, and I felt nature calling,” Michele said.

He abandoned what he called “the worn-out ritual of seasonalities and shows to regain a new cadence,” conceiving new names for the collections and inspired by the music world, presenting in July last year what would have traditionally been called a cruise collection and that was dubbed “Epilogue,” explaining at the time that he wanted to “overturn things” and present a story with the people from his office instead of models, a project that included a 12-hour livestream.

Discussing other key moments in his style evolution, he emphasized that combining the codes of the Gucci and Balenciaga brands “was not a marketing operation. At first it seemed strange, but I work for a brand and a group that is very much open to creativity. It could all have been crazy but it has become a trend now, almost customary and a marketing [tool].”

A look from Gucci’s Aria collection and the Balenciaga hacking project. - Credit: Courtesy of Gucci
A look from Gucci’s Aria collection and the Balenciaga hacking project. - Credit: Courtesy of Gucci

Courtesy of Gucci

Underscoring again the value of experimentation, there are uncertainties for whoever goes first, said the designer. “The experiment can blow up or you can get burned. When you know the chemical reaction, it’s easier, but the first time is always fascinating, when you wait to see what happens. The worlds of fashion, politics and art always need new material.

“I am a man of my times, and I have realized that fashion is very powerful and it can be narrated in a billion ways. Fashion never dies down like a fire, it exists because we exist, formally, even without a calendar, fashion lives on its own because we must live and get dressed — even if there were no business or no stores.”

Using different names for the collections was like “changing the order of addends, which does not change the sum,” he said.

The strict lockdown in Italy, with the manufacturing plants closed and the seamstresses at home, changed the way Gucci worked and, as a consequence, the way Michele worked. “But I think we found alternatives. We needed to follow the pace of nature as the world at that moment asked us to behave differently, and I did so,” said the designer. “We had to change the tone of voice, to be chameleons. We cannot be the same forever as we live in a world that changes every day, and I cannot be — and am not interested in being — the same person with the same creativity, or I get bored.”

Last year Michele and director Gus Van Sant presented another course for the brand and a new collection through a seven-part film series they codirected, dubbed “Ouverture of Something That Never Ended.”

Asked about the film medium and whether there was another in the pipeline, Michele said, “Not for the time being. It’s very demanding, as I deal with everything, with a very good team, of course, from the idea to the execution, and I do it seriously. Images in movement, films and videos are a source of entertainment, an interesting way to communicate, so I don’t rule out a return, but not now.”

Chuckling, he said he’d heard comments after the Love Parade show about his departure from Gucci, “as if it were a salute to do who knows what. But I am here and I am staying.”

Of closing the centenary, Michele said he believes the celebrations were “loving, at a time that was so difficult and complex. The brand was born again and showed great vitality,” and, as such, it can be represented in “a thousand different ways. As I say when I speak to someone older, I enjoy the beauty of the conversation, and who cares about the age.”

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