Art for Art’s Sake

by Katie on November 4, 2015

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Money for God’s sake – isn’t that how the old 10CC song goes? Contemporary luxury fashion and art now go hand-in-exquisitely-gloved-hand; Louis Vuitton has its Fondation, Prada has its Fondazione, and the designer/artist collaboration is commonplace, so it’s no surprise that the newly-revamped Gucci has decided to follow the same route.

Gucci is a name which has hardly left the fashion industry’s lips since Alessandro Michele’s baptism of fire at the beginning of the year, following the acrimonious departure of former creative director Frida Giannini. The move caught le tout monde by shock, despite Michele working at Gucci for the previous twelve years. In many respects he was a safe pair of hands, similar to Sarah Burton of Kering stable mate Alexander McQueen. The only difference was that Michele is an accessories savant, cutting his teeth (or, rather, leather) at handbag powerhouse Fendi and, as leather goods constitutes 57% of Gucci’s revenue, this was a smart move.

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The hyperbole piled onto Gucci’s new direction is indicative of how far the brand’s image had fallen on Giannini’s watch, and although the gulf between nu-Gucci and a company haunted by the spectre of Tom Ford was conspicuous, the majority of fashion commentators embraced it wholesale.

In many ways this new incarnation of Gucci seems influenced by Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent overhaul; choose your “fake vintage” aesthetic (Hedi went for mid-Nineties grunge, Michele the flamboyant ‘Department S’-meets-librarian-chic style of late-Sixties/early Seventies – coincidentally Gucci’s most successful period), pile the product high on the catwalk, including cheaper gateway purchases, then make sweeping changes to the brand’s bricks-and-mortar and online presence.

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Gucci’s new look is also evocative of other fashion success stories. The let-loose-in-a-thrift-store vibe of early Marc Jacobs. The intellectually sexy Valentino under Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli. Marco Zanini’s taste-questioning Rochas collections.

With rings starting at just over £100, and hats only slightly more, Michele’s Gucci is accessible to most, and consumers fell as hard for the new offering as critics did. Turnover actually increased before any product had arrived in store. Shoppers were buying into the (admittedly mostly media-generated) hype, allowing Michele to refine his concept over two subsequent seasons.

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Gucci’s #GucciGram project will hardly win any prizes for originality (Michele’s designs reimagined by established and up-and-coming creatives, then disseminated via Instagram), but the end result is witty, engaging, and likely to continue the conversation. If anything, it will tide us over until early in 2016, when Michele is due to show his next collections. With maximalist catwalk styling bordering on overpowering, writers are wondering about Alessandro Michele’s next move. Will Gucci even move, or stay stuck in a commercially-successful-yet-artistically-stagnant rut like Saint Laurent? Only time will tell.

Written by  Lee Clatworthy (@bombfashion) for www.katiechutzpah.com

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