Gucci SS17: Phantasmagoria, Eighteen Ways
19th March, 2017
Stunningly hypnotic, idiosyncratic and mesmerisingly kaleidoscopic.. not even the most liberal usage of purple prose could encapsulate the exuberant wizardry that Alessandro Michele has woven since taking the reigns at Gucci. Bringing diversity in visual dialogue to unprecedented heights - and drawing upon decades of perusing the most evocative of flea-market treasures and antique museum artworks - his more-is-more philosophy is uniting the creative sector's multiple facets more solidly than ever before: from evocative set design and highly-inventive invitations to spellbinding custom soundtracks and artistic collaborations.
Never dictated to by new-season trend carousels and their increasingly-limited shelf lives, and with the inaugural collections of early 2015 bringing the Florentine label firmly out of its creative and commercial stagnation, Gucci's continuation of highly-eclectic, ethereal styles has invited accusations of "sameness" in Michele's design approach. Yet such viewpoints have doubtless been informed by quick-driven fashion consumption, too often characterised by designers ripping out the pages of last season's narrative and continuing anew, long before each painstakingly thought-out concept can be fully digested. By contrast, each season brings a new chronicle to Michele's continually-evolving, vividly-illustrated storybook - one which has garnered a remarkably loyal fanbase in its wake.
Gucci SS17 Campaign - captured by Glen Luchford on the streets of Rome
The magnetic pull that Michele seamlessly conjures up within his collections is multi-faceted in nature: the components of his success have nearly as many dimensions as his heavily-embellished gowns can boast of. With the global climate unpredictable at best currently, lavish visual escapism is the ultimate respite - deciphering the intricacies of his flora-filled embroideries is a meditative process in itself. Moreover, Michele's disregard for hastened garment disposal and inherent appreciation of centuries-old craftsmanship has prompted reflection on the part of consumers. Indirectly or otherwise, his statements draw notable parallels with critically-acclaimed initiatives seeking to change industry and consumer values for the better, which naturally encompass a more conscious, less voluminous approach to clothing purchases. That subliminal messaging is only further enhanced by the fact that Gucci's super-group parent Kering has been fully transparent in publishing its sustainability reports, detailing the (mostly) highs and lows of its ethical progressions - unchartered territory for a luxury-fashion conglomerate.
Gucci SS17 showcase - captured by Alessandro Garofano for Vogue Runway
Having cemented his status as Kaleidoscope King for SS16 (his first unabashedly-Michele showcase, enveloping a disused train station with Madeline de Scudéry-inspired set design under a 70s haze) and further evolving his tale of textiles in an adrenaline-coursing AW16 show, SS17 harnessed these elements and re-packaged them with even greater illusion and mesmerism. Staged in the otherworldly-nightclub surrounds of 250,000 mirrored sequins, opulent pink-velvet banquettes and an ambience enriched with pink-tinted mist, Florence Welch - her most recent title being celestial Gucci muse - gave wistful narration of William Blake's poetry as each model emerged.
Michele tends to immerse collection clues in a haze as dreamy as that aforementioned pink mist, citing some direct references to his inspiration sources but giving ample room for spectators to dig deeper and find the remaining pieces of the puzzle. His ability to summarise what is innately multi-layered, however, was especially visible this season - cocooning his new spring/summer offerings was the word "phantasmagoria", defined as a sequence of real or imaginary images like those seen in a dream. His resplendent creations have realised the most metaphysical of fantasy worlds.
De-assembling and re-assembling Gucci ensembles is pure nectar for dyed-in-the-wool maximalists - only by traversing through the most gorgeously-vivid of costume-history references, palatial interiors, 18th century portraits and 20th century style icons can the dots begin to fully connect. Continue on for multi-hued surmising of the whirlpool of inspirations that may have coursed through Michele's mind for SS17:
Gucci SS17 Embellished Oriental Textiles - inspiration points, clockwise: Lama Temple, Beijing, China; traditional dragon-decorated entrance door, China; mid-18th century Chinese woven silk taffeta, painted with pigments, gilt and silver; "Women With Umbrella" by Richard Emil Miller, American Impressionist; "The Kimono" by William Merritt Chase, a fellow American Impressionist.
Victorian Mourner-esque headwear - inspiration points, clockwise: 19th century Victorian illustration; 19th century side portrait; illustrated Victorian Hats from 1880-1890.
East Meets West - inspiration points, clockwise: John Lewis Catalog Cover, 1891; 18th century "traje de luces", translated as "suit of lights", prevalent in the Bourbon court of Spain; a rare photograph of Japan's 19th century samurai, taken between 1863 and 1900 and colourised by hand; bullfighting silk jacket, infused with goldwork; Amber-coloured fireworks, New Year's Eve, Japan
East Meets West, Chapter IV - inspiration points, clockwise: An Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1903, by William Logsdail, English plein air painter; Pinturas de Lanternas, 1890s; Embroidered Court Robe, detail of dragon and pearl of wisdom, 19th century China
Regal Ruffles - inspiration points, from left: Princess Diana portrait, 1981; Princess Diana in a ruffled blue dress by Bruce Oldfield, one of her favourite designers, taken soon after the birth of her first child
Cerulean & Canary Yellow - inspiration points, from left: the Grand Bedroom in Royal Gatchina Palace of St. Petersburg, Russia; Catherine's Winter Palace of St. Petersburg, Russia
Gilded Gold & Powder Blue - inspiration point: one of Marie Antoinette's many vibrant chambers.
Smell the (jewel-encrusted) Roses - inspiration points, from behind: a Contemporary Secret Garden; an ornate, flora-inspired Faberge egg.
Dusty-pink floral embroideries - inspiration points, clockwise: a contemporary capture of roses; turn-of-the-19th century rose watercolours; French School artistry, 19th century
Flora-filled Embroideries, Part III - inspiration points, clockwise: front cover of C. Young & Sons Co "Young Catalogue 1897"; La Tapisserie d'Aubusson, 17th/18th century
Elton John suits & shades (confirmed by Alessandro Michele) - inspiration points, from left: Elton John captured in a Nudie suit; on stage in a scarlet tasselled jacket, akin to this Petra Collins capture for Alessandro Michele's edit of A Mag Curated By..
An Elton John love affair - inspiration point: Elton John performing in London, 1974
Elton John statement platforms - inspiration points, clockwise: Elton John inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 21st October 1975; Elton John at the Sundown Theatre, North London, captured by Barrie Wentzell in 1973
Elton John colour pops & collar pops - inspiration point: EJ, 1973
Colourful Chopines (confirmed by Alessandro Michele) - inspiration points from left: Mustard-yellow velvet, heavy-embellished Venetian chopines (the footwear choice of upper-class prostitutes, designed to make them prominent and elevated in crowds), popular between 1580 and 1620; duck-egg blue and teal velvet Venetian chopines, c.1600
Marie Antoinette's Lover - inspiration points, clockwise: suit worn by the Swedish statesman and diplomat Axel von Fersen, France, 1785; the evocative cast of Marie Antoinette (Sophia Coppola film) photographed by Annie Leibowitz in the Parisian Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Hôtel de Soubise; portrait of Axel Von Fersen in Dusseldorf, 1799
19th century nightgowns - inspiration points, clockwise: Mademoiselle Fleury, France, 1844; extravagant gold interiors in L'Hôtel de la Marine, Galerie Doree, Paris; the pink and blue ballroom gildings of Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin; "Expectation", 1890, by Charles Soulacroix, French 19th century painter; "La Toilette" by Eva Gonzales, 19th century France
Victoriana meets 70s Americana - inspiration point: Pat Cleveland in a shimmering sea of pleats, Studio 54, captured by Guy Marineau, 1977.
*All catwalk images sourced from Vogue Runway. Otherworldly backgrounds by House of Hackney.
As these inspiration musings take on a fraction of Gucci's storytelling this season, follow La Femme Éclectique's Instagram escapades for bonus postings of Michele's conceivable influences (from Hong-Kong maximalist jewellers to Napoleon Dynamite).