• Text Tempe Nakiska
  • 22nd September 2016

Magic lanterns

If the Gucci venue this season felt trippy, then the clothes were out of this world. Alessandro Michele metabolised his far-stretching influences into a collection to satisfy the most hardcore of bower birds, showing in a lounge bar setting to a dreamy soundtrack by Florence Welch.

The designer’s ascent has been defined by a maximalist approach to everything, from colour to print, venue to reference. Especially reference. Where many designers approach a season as a chapter in a book, playing on one historic era or sartorial movement, Michele filters countless elements through his kaleidoscopic lens to create something new. “Literature was not born the day when a boy crying ‘wolf, wolf’ came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels; literature was born on the day when a boy came crying ‘wolf, wolf’ and there was no wolf behind him,” went the show notes, quoting Vladimir Nabokov’s reference to the birth of literature. Just as the boy uses his imagination to flip reality on its head, Michele remixes what he knows to realise his own story.

Cue Eastern prints, gothic type (which carried onto one male model’s face), clog platforms, fantastical prom dresses with asymmetric 80s pouf sleeves, metallic fisherman hats, punk acid wash denim, chinoiserie embroidery, Victoriana necklines, baby doll stockings; all worn with huge Swarovski-encrusted sunglasses, scarves, turbans and piles of jewellery. One of the simplest women’s looks was a two piece silk suit in canary yellow wallpaper print, all stove pipe trousers and sailor-backed lapel. Though on the runway it looks like A Lot, it must be said that most of the extravagance comes from the more-is-more styling. Like Look 15 (deep breath): studded platforms with a bell-sleeved Bo Peep dress, worn over retro striped sports leggings and with an Eastern fan and leopard shoulder bag. But strip it back piece by piece and you find most things are very wearable.

Of course, there are also the branded highlights that will fly off the shelves – like those Gucci sweaters and classic ‘G’ belts that are no doubt enjoying a retail renaissance. But they’re just accents in a point of view that’s proving successful in its consistency. Michele’s originality is key. As is his knack for combining masculine and feminine tropes, regardless of gender, a factor that has no doubt had a lot to do with Gucci’s new show format, combining men’s and women’s together on the runway from next season forwards.

Of course the brand is already witnessing the reality of high street knock-offs – it was telling that Michele chose to let a thick fog of dry ice loose on his show guests, obscuring their ability to Instagram the clothes straight away. But copycats are just another aspect to a changing fashion industry, and another (albeit frustrating) layer in the spirit of style remixing that inspires Michele. After all, the name of the collection was ‘Magic Lanterns’ – a reference to the way we distort existing codes to create things anew. From Nabokov, to the narratives we put on our backs.