Welcome to the Gucciverse
The winds are changing in the world of fashion. The era of Demna Gvasalia, Gosha Rubchinskiy and their ilk is nearly over, signalling the end of a line of destructive dystopias. Gucci is back, taking fashion at hyperspeed from the streets into space, with a new aesthetic of eternity that sells the promise of a better world for all.
What’s good threadheads? If you’ve been kind of bored of talking about fashion because of, say, the slow-motion collapse of Western democracy happening at the exact same moment as the golden age of prestige television, then perhaps you ghosted the last couple of seasons. Don’t worry! None of it was spicy as Spicey, as balls-out as Brexit or as fire as Cersei’s revenge.
Streetwear offered a continued slew of statement graphic tees and sweats (the “do you even skate” war of 2016 rages on), yet more fuccboi obscenity – used $1000 brick? Branded collapsible shovel? Paperweight filled with actual banknotes? Cop Supreme fam! – complemented by crop tops, lip fillers and that healthgoth-hangover 90s alterna-ho fishnets and mesh thing preferred by woke sugarbabies and Scandinavian tourists visiting Berlin. PSA: All of this is still largely communicable via Instagram.
On and off the catwalks there was a vogue for frippery in the form of pyjama suits, fur pom-poms and a tiered-weird pastoral bell sleeve and trumpet leg-silhouette moment that I can’t help suspect is emblematic of some proto circle of a warped techno-feudalist hell. Voluminous cuffs might be ridiculously impractical and covered in ecks of avocado by the end of a long millennial day in the content mine, but I guess they do provide a good cloth buffer for whichever device you’re clutching tight enough to draw blood.
For the most part the arch narrative has been dominated with what the Business of Fashion termed the “cynical realism of the New Russian aesthetic”, with the blog Highsnobiety calling 2016 “the year of Post-Soviet fashion”. Bracing when it was fresh, intriguing at peak hype, yet somewhat lacklustre after a few seasons of the same, but backdropped by the media volleyball over alleged Russian-US relations scandal (pee tape! pee tape!), there is still no denying the influence that Demna Gvasalia, Gosha Rubchinskiy et al. have wielded over their peers and fans.
"the winds are changing. There has been a distinct turn from contrarian utilitarian aesthetic towards spectacular escapism."
But the winds are changing. There has been a distinct turn from their contrarian utilitarian aesthetic towards spectacular escapism. Christopher Kane showed spaceship print silks and holographic knits while Mugler offered elegantly improved knock-off starfleet uniforms, Buzz Aldrin and Bill Nye (“Science Guy”) even turned up to walk New York Fashion Week and Chanel launched an actual rocket from the Grand Palais (kind of).
Why the turn to distant worlds and alternate dimensions? I’m not the first to point out the obvious, that things aren’t looking so great on this one. Borders and economic uncertainty affect the fashion industry as much as any other, from its immigrant-heavy workforce to the globalized supply chain; so the shocks of Brexit and Trump have hit hard. Science fiction is the home-world of allegorical critique and rebuke of the contemporary, so it’s no wonder fashion has docked its ship here once more. Oh, and Elon Musk just dropped the new SpaceX IVA flightsuit and it’s sick af.
Back to terran wear though, there’s one house that boldly went more boldly than most and that’s Gucci. Their latest campaign (lensed by Glen Luchford) features vintage sci-fi greats like Robby the Robot, the Star Trek transporters and bridge, Ray Harryhausen-style dinosaurs and the Gillman from the black lagoon. It marks a high point in the brand’s recent change of creative direction following the appointment of Alessandro Michele in 2015. If Gucci’s a affluence-signalling aesthetic used to have a sort of sleazy coke-yacht vibe to it, the new look sacrifices its clavicle-skimming lines for ebullient Arcadian froth.
Under Michele’s direction, Gucci transcends the diktats of recorded time, geography, ethnic culture, class and gender to produce a mannered, hyper-aware universal potpourri of references that has gone from strength to strength over his fifteen collections. In one season he might resample the opulence of renaissance brocade and prim Victoriana lace with the Californian optimism of 70s aviators and flares before throwing on scrambled-Anglo tweed, ambient Chinoiserie, glam-rock sparkle and spiked spaghetti western-tooled leather for good measure. No wonder journalist Tim Blanks called Kering’s chrononaut starboy the “master of eternity” – trying to decode the new aesthetic is like trying to operate a time machine when you’re high as shit. It’s bracing epoch drag fusion, a post-truth uniform for life lived under anything-goes neoliberal hyperreality.
"Gucci is the hottest brand on the planet and it’s cultural colonialism in hyperdrive"
And as the news cycle shrinks to nano proportions and the stakes for callout culture rise higher in the face of actual Nazi murderers, it already feels quaint to remember all those opinion pieces on fashion appropriation over the last few years. Gucci is the hottest brand on the planet and it’s cultural colonialism in hyperdrive. It’s a tangled stance, managing to be at once globalist, colonial, queer, polyethnic, high and low brow, garish and chic. But that’s late capitalism babe, it’s complicated. So at this point it is worth noting that Gucci’s New York headquarters lie within the eye of Sauron itself: Trump Tower. On the president’s recent return to New York from Washington, protests were staged in front of the building following his response to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Two people were spotted in the store holding signs reading HATE HAS NO HOME HERE and misidentified as employees, leading Gucci to issue a careful correction.
Furthermore, the frightful “Effie Trinket attends low-key lynching” look worn by Kellyanne Conway for Donald Trump’s inauguration was Gucci, although apparently purchased off the rack. “Oh, this is just Gucci! Trump revolutionary wear!” she told an NBC reporter of the $3600 resort collection coat inspired by “the city of London”. And what of the pussy-bow blouse worn by Melania Trump a few days after the president’s pussy-grabbing comment leaks? Also Gucci! #FreeMelania.
It’s no surprise that the handmaidens of Alternative Facts have seized upon a knowing visual reality that reflects the chaos we’re living in. If peak Balenciaga/Vetements was for the ironybro who wants to watch the world burn, Gucci sells promises to those on all sides yearning to escape to a better world, whatever that looks like. Optimism is easily co-opted and nothing is ever black and white, even in fashion.
ELLA PLEVIN is a writer and stylist based in London.
This text appears in Spike Art Quarterly #53 and is available for purchase at our online shop.