There is a philosophy class on the Harvard Curriculum this semester, under Associate Professor Emanuele Coccio, entitled The Ego in Matters: Fashion as a Moral Laboratory. The curriculum, which explores the role of fashion in shaping identity and illustrating culture, includes an essay by the late designer Virgil Abloh and an episode of The Simpsons made in collaboration with Balenciaga, but special focus is on Alessandro Michele, creative director. from Gucci. This week Michele, who recently attended the Met Gala twinning with Jared Leto, all the way to matching diamond hairpins, showed off his latest collection, Cosmogonie, in a 13th-century Pula castle. The influences he cited were not common references to style – say Audrey Hepburn or Cristóbal Balenciaga – but Hannah Arendt, Holocaust survivor and political theorist who coined the phrase “banality of evil” and critical theorist Walter Benjamin.
Eight hours before the start of the show, Michele, who is Cocci’s co-author of an upcoming book on fashion and philosophy, is dressed in a plaid shirt, baggy pants and sandals, long hair in braids Pippi Longstocking under a Harlem baseball cap. As reporters rummage through his notebooks, he opens a fan of paper, in the style of Karl Lagerfeld. “Being a fashion designer now doesn’t mean being a fashion designer,” he says. “It’s not my job to make a rich woman a gala dress. My job is to open the door to different points of view, to be in conversation with the moment. “
That is true, although it is not entirely true. Michele’s job is largely to make dresses for rich women to wear to gala parties – even if those dresses, like the ones on the show to be staged later that evening, have navel cutouts or Elizabethan satin straps, or are worn with latex thigh-high boots or leopard print caps. For Gucci bosses, the motivation behind the extravagantly picturesque ambience is in the orders given by big consumers in the first place and the noise that is created around the brand. But for Michele, the setting has a deeper meaning. He brings his sequins, lace and pearls to the octagonal towers of Castel del Monte (which are also on the back of the euro cent coin) – where two stone lions at the entrance face the directions from where the sun rises in winter. and the summer solstice – to talk about space.
“I chose this place because it’s the stargate between earth and sky,” Michele says in his poetic, cheerful English. “Fashion is a magical thing, because the power of what we put on our bodies to come out into the world is what makes it mysterious. Without the life we live in them, clothes are just fabric. ” A cloak with a series of constellations embroidered with shell pearls points to Walter Benjamin’s 1928 observation that “ideas for objects such as constellations for the stars.” For Michele, constellations represent the ability of fashion “to illuminate connections that would otherwise be invisible … When you look at someone’s clothes, you see a connection to their story.”
Michele’s wonderfully esoteric approach to fashion is, as Paris Hilton put it, so hot right now. Fashion used to be taken seriously as art. But these days, those who are serious about fashion tend to make it a platform for philosophy, activism or debate. Since identity politics is dominant in culture, clothing is a channel where difficult topics are discussed at the street level. From the war-green T-shirts of the war president to the spider brooch of the judge’s choice, what we wear is a code to update the status of all species, not just the status.
The fashion houses that set the pace in the 21st century have each identified with a set of values. Dior, under Mario Grazio Chiuri, his first female designer, set out to imprint his logo on feminism. Shaping the Kardashian-West divorce and turning the Paris Fashion Week show into a mirror of the Ukrainian refugee crisis, Balenciaga claimed the right to provoke and court a controversy that, whether he likes it or hates it, he sees as great.
Prior to his most recent diversification into life, the universe, and everything else, Michele’s Gucci was primarily concerned with gender and the fluidity of identity. Since his first Gucci catwalk in 2015, on which men wore bow blouses and pearls, Michele has ridiculed poisonous masculinity. The fact that men in lace (Harry Styles) or diamonds (A $ AP Rocky) and with evening bags (Billy Porter) now regularly appear on the red carpets is largely responsible for finding Gucci again. He has gone from a home of leather moccasins to a champion of the new masculine look who is allowed to fall in love with color, decoration and glamor, from plush cut from Donald Glover’s caramel velvet to Ryan Gosling’s floral prom shirts. Fortunately for Gucci’s end result, Michele’s enthusiasm for fluidity agrees with the enthusiasm of young consumers. In its third year in the brand, sales jumped 42%, although exposure to the Chinese market above average has recently taken its toll as blockades continue there.
Now is the time for the show. On the steps to the castle, actress Elle Fanning pats a young man in a university jacket on the shoulder, handing her a phone with a smile and asking for a photo with two friends. (The man is actor Paul Mescal, but incognito because of the mustache that has just emerged for the role.) The air turns sequined silver at sunset as guests sit in their seats and the show begins. There are crystals strung from the nose ring to the earlobe, and a dozen strings of pearls wrapped around the neck as thick as a woolen scarf. There are dresses in bags and neon opera gloves, and then, as if by magic, a huge blood-red moon, rising from the horizon, attracting every eye from the clothes to the sky. And for a moment it seems like this is more than fashion.