SYDNEY – Alessandro Michele was dialling in via video link from Gucci’s Design Office in Rome, perched on a blue Chesterfield sofa and wearing a sparkling necklace, bright blue sweater and burgundy pants.
“I’m nursing a cold,” he told the group of regional and Australian journalists at the Powerhouse Ultimo contemporary museum in Sydney, two days before the official Nov 17 opening of the Gucci Garden Archetypes exhibition.
The travelling multi-sensory showcase – launched in Florence in May 2021 to celebrate the Italian fashion house’s 100th anniversary – recreates some of the most groundbreaking advertising campaigns Michele has conceived for Gucci as its creative director.
Unknown to all of us, the bearded, long-haired fashion provocateur was probably giving one of his last interviews, if not his last, as Gucci’s creative director.
The fashion world went into a tizzy on Thursday when news broke that Michele – who joined Gucci as an accessories designer in 2002 before becoming creative director in 2015 – was leaving the label he had helped to make one of the most edgy and coveted in the last eight years.
If he already knew that he was leaving Gucci during the interview, he hid it well. Speaking through an interpreter, he mulled each question carefully before giving deep, thoughtful and almost philosophical answers.
It is well known that Michele is not your average designer. His creative manifesto hints at parallel worlds, where – among other things – art, theatre, literature, philosophy and cinema collide. In fact, it was reported earlier in 2022 that he is working on a book with Italian philosopher Emanuele Coccia about the relationship between fashion and philosophy.
“Fashion is now, fashion is also what has already been. I never studied philosophy, but I think that philosophy can really describe life and fashion very well. Fashion has a very special relationship with time because it is part of our daily lives. Sometimes, we are a bit afraid of the past. The past is very much connected to our present, and this is something that I have explored in depth, and I like exploring this topic,” he said.
Asked if he agreed with the late designer Elsa Schiaparelli who said she found fashion to be “a most difficult and unsatisfying art because as soon as a dress is born, it has already become a thing of the past”, he shrugged.
He said: “The idea of something becoming a thing of the past is very much connected to time and the idea of time is extremely personal. There is nothing that is truly old to me. I think that things can have a meaning if they are there with you, and if they’ve lived with you. I think that in general, all objects and notably those that are used, have an infinite time, an endless time.”
His creative process is equally personal, said the designer, who draws inspiration from “everything”.
“The process is not always the same. When I prepare for a show or campaign, I think about people, states of mind, mood, places, like in a film. I never think about pieces of clothing. I mean, those pieces are like words for a writer. You cannot ask a writer what kind of grammar you have in mind when you are writing.
“Clothes are like grammar in fashion. I know clothes very well, I take care of them like a writer does with words, so I try to place them in their right position. I choose them so that they can tell the story I want to tell. So my process is rather free because creativity, like air or gas, is difficult to describe.”
Gas cropped up again when he talked about how he chooses celebrities – from Hollywood actress Diane Keaton to British singer-actor Harry Styles – for his campaigns. Both appeared in 2021’s Beloved campaign, revolving around a late-night Hollywood talk show.
“When I put personalities together in a campaign, it is a work of composition, a chemical process. You choose products or agents that go together with other agents to produce a chemical reaction... Sometimes, there is an explosion. Sometimes, you realise something is going to happen just by looking at that combination of people.“
He had an equally eloquent answer when asked about his penchant for pink, the colour of the Gucci Garden Archetypes exhibition. It is a hue, he said, which he has regularly used over the last eight years.
“It is a dystopian colour because in men, it produces something, and in women, something else. Until a few years ago, it was a sort of forbidden colour, the colour of bad taste. I use it to go against common (thinking), as a symbol of something that is not true because pink is a powerful colour connected to an emotional side of human beings. A colour that many have to give up, banned or removed.
“The Gucci Garden Archetypes was really born with this colour in mind. If you wear pink, you are different, you have a different way of thinking.“
Famous for his freewheeling creative expression, Michele finds it difficult to define his style, or his intent.
“I do what I am, I do what is living, I narrate what I see. So it is very difficult for me to define what I am doing. What I am doing exists, this is what I know, and this is what I can do. I don’t think that fashion can remain always the same.”
He continued: “Many people tend to believe that designers can somehow foresee the future, but the only thing we can do is to plant the seeds in the present and sometimes to see it grow and produce other things, fruit, sometimes other lives.
“So, what is really important is for me to create dialogue among many different things in my work. What is really important is that I am planting a seed and that this seed will produce something that has a significance and meaning.”