SYDNEY – So this is what obsession looks like.
I am in a mirrored labyrinth, a room where the walls, floors and ceilings are lined with mirrors. Display cases surround me, inside of which reside, among other objects, 134 Gucci Marmont bags, 1,328 soft toys and 391 pieces of ceramics. Another 182 cuckoo clocks hang from the only unmirrored wall in the room.
It is trippy, kaleidoscopic and wildly imaginative. But then, that is only to be expected coming from the mind of Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele, who shocked the fashion world on Thursday when he announced his departure from the Italian luxury label.
This vivid visualisation of how obsession drives eccentric collectors is one of a series of themed rooms at Sydney’s Powerhouse Ultimo contemporary museum that recreate some of the most original and disruptive advertising campaigns conceived for Gucci by Michele.
Collectively, they make up the Gucci Garden Archetypes multi-sensory exhibition which opened in May 2021 in Florence, Italy, to celebrate Gucci’s 100th anniversary, and has since travelled to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo and Seoul.
Split into different themed and immersive sections, the exhibition opened on Nov 17 in Sydney – its seventh stop – where it will welcome visitors until Jan 15.
Known for his flamboyant and maximalist designs, Michele, 49, worked at Gucci for 12 years before being appointed creative director in 2015 by then new president Marco Bizzarri.
Then languishing, the brand enjoyed a revival under Michele’s creative charge where his imagination and designs have been described as fearless, eclectic, kooky, cinematic and gender-ambiguous.
Thanks to him, “granny-chic”, clashing prints and jewellery logos – among others – became vogue. A self-described “art archaeologist” with an “everything, anything goes” design ethos, he was responsible for all of the maison’s collections and brand image.
More than just a retrospective, Gucci Garden Archetypes is a journey through his creative manifesto.
“I thought it was interesting to accompany people in these almost eight years of adventure, inviting them to cross the imaginary, the narrative, the unexpected, the glitter,” said Michele, who cut his teeth as a costume designer. “So, I created a playground of emotions that are the same as in the campaigns, because they are the most explicit journey into my imagery.”
It probably took Florentine design studio Archivio Personale an army to create this “playground of emotions” which seamlessly pulls together fashion, music, pop culture, set design, lighting and cutting-edge technology,
Take, for instance, the toilet of a 1980s Berlin nightclub of the Spring/Summer 2016 campaign titled Rebellious Romantics.
Against a backdrop of muted disco music, a couple – probably poised for some mischief – stand in the middle of the pink-tiled bathroom. They are oblivious to the shenanigans of another couple who have locked themselves in one of the bright red toilet cubicles, their presence betrayed by the Gucci loafers and heels peeking from beneath the door.
Surreal yet stylish, the exhibition sheds light on the eclectic sources of Michele’s inspiration – from Greek mythology to student uprisings. The Pre-Fall 18-inspired graffiti walls, for instance, pay homage to the events of May 1968 in Paris which saw riots erupt as French youth protested against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism and traditional institutions.
In the light of his departure, Gucci Garden Archetypes is a must-see for anyone who wants a peek into the mind of a provocateur who has, in the last decade, cemented his position as a key player in the fashion landscape. It is also ironically a swansong, a retrospective and a final campaign, staged by Michele himself.
The Gucci Garden Archetypes exhibition will be open to the public till Jan 15, 2023, at the Powerhouse Ultimo, Sydney. Tickets are available for booking at www.gucci.com