A is for Awkward Pause
It is awkward to wear a voile garment bag over an outfit, or to place the arms of your eyeglasses over your beanie. It is both awkward and naff to wear gold hoop earrings that match gold wire-framed glasses with a pudding-bowl haircut. Quite especially if you are a boy. Gucci A/W 2018 makes a study of gender rules and their impact on sartorial norms. This signals a renaissance in menswear: think drop earrings, mascara and errant nipples. And what does it mean for women? Possibly the return of the knee-sock for evening.
B is for Brand Inversion
Imagine a lurid counterfeit phone cover in hot pink plastic. Then realise that is ‘real’ Gucci, Made in Italy, conceived by the brand to trample the terrifying line between cheap things and expensive things. Luxury that impersonates mass production is the ultimate brand inversion. Before the factories in China can start cranking out forged Gucci you must buy the real version of the imitated commodity.
C is for Cyborg Manifesto
A Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway was written in 1984. Her ideas pre-dated the inevitable collapse of the line between the natural and the man-made world and masculine and feminine. Basically she exploded limiting categories in favour of mutation, affinity and gender fluidity. This is why boys wear silk shorts and a model carries a replication of her own head in Gucci A/W 2018. Alessandro Michele gives a Foucault. He is thinking about cyborgs and why lingerie on men still bothers us. It’s heavy yet playful. This is the bit where the robots reject their uniforms.
D is for Deliberately Ugly
The jewelled mountain boot, featuring an aqua metallic leather tongue, white laces, pale tan trim and Byzantine stones, challenges those who purchased the hairy Muppet-like Princeton slipper (launched 2015) to take a step deeper into deliberate anti-aesthetics. For autumn the doomsday glam hiking boot was teamed with white lace tights and a floral peasant dress. Think FUGLY. The designer says he was exploring a ‘set of codes’ around ‘the bourgeoisie thinking what to wear to the bank’. OK. But is deliberate ugliness the last bastion of the activist or just a logical extension of consumer decadence? I think it’s reversible.
“To wear Gucci is to participate in late capitalism as a form of performance art.”
E is for Elephant Grey Leather
Salmon, putty and elephant grey on one jacket (with an oversized sleeve). There is no way around this. It is BANAL and BRUTALIST. The paradox? Ugliness can only be adopted with any confidence by the beautiful. Poverty can only be found diverting by the privileged. Bad taste is punk for rich people.
F is for Floral
Every house revives and re-distributes the classics of their archive. It’s a label’s griffe. Stylistically it’s a bit like letting your roots show. Gucci’s roots are tennis chic, 1970s VIP lounge styling and botanical florals. Alessandro Michele allows for the more introverted floral fans to rejoice in the form of a floor-length glazed blue raincoat festooned in lotus blossoms, white Madonna lilies, daisies and tulips. This coat looks like the original property of Iris Murdoch and is made for a man. I want one. (see Z for Zara.)
G is for Grayson Perry
Polemicist Grayson Perry dresses as Little Bo Peep or sometimes a fluorescent Margaret Thatcher. He says the basis for his arousal as a cross dresser is the promise of public humiliation. The premise for his particular fetish is to present as obviously male in theatrically female clothing. Gucci extends that logic by placing anachronistic feminine accessories and styling on male models and enlarged proportions on women. Gucci Autumn 2018 replaces the smooth transition of androgyny with the social pain of trading sides. Simple items of clothing on a man or a woman still invite persecution. This threshold is culturally important. That place where we squirm at the very sight of something. Because: Embarrassment is the gauntlet of social change. Susan Sontag nailed it in her Notes on ‘Camp’ in 1964: “The essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural; of artifice and exaggeration.”
Good taste reassures. Camp interrogates.
H is for Homeless Style
There is street fashion and then there are street people. The homeless have been referenced in dozens of couture shows. Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood all poeticised the ‘bag person’. The way that Gucci pays homage is to style garments as if the wearer is exercising no autonomy. The improvisation of a poorly fitting coat, an alpaca scarf and hiking boots suggests clothing that has been scavenged rather than carefully curated. Ostensibly luxury is all about the power of choice. Gucci is the hyper-ironic.
“Bad taste is punk for
I is for Insult
Untangle the congested styling of this collection and there are several wearable pieces. When Elsa Schiaparelli painted a lobster onto a silk evening gown in 1937, the idea was Surrealist yet the cut of the dress was quite flattering. At the helm of a billion dollar brand you cannot bite the hand that feeds you. Much.
J is for Jarvis Cocker
Author of disco anthem ‘Common People’, anti-hero pop star, featured in Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr Fox, and well known for his magnificent corduroy suits and signature NHS glasses, I elect Jarvis as the proper face of Gucci, 2019. He isn’t wholly Camp, he is from Sheffield, but he is apposite.
K is for Kink
To wear new season Gucci is to subvert and to submit. Masked. Strapped in. A monobrow scratched across your face with an eyeliner pencil. Biting the serpent’s tail; see O for Ouroboros.
L is for Leigh Bowery
Lucien Freud made many portraits of the Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery. Bowery wore makeup as a mask and extreme garments influenced by fetish and the Rococo. All of his looks were ‘difficult’ and kitsch. Leigh Bowery presented the body as travesty and in many ways was an un-named forerunner to the abject art movement of the 1990s.
Post-punk fashion, art and activism naturally intersect. After the demise of real sub-culture, activism is where the best clothes are. The feminist and anti-capitalist happenings (held in churches and major art museums) such as those by the Guerrilla Girls and Pussy Riot used masks and jarring fashion choices to confront social institutions. If Alessandro Michele is quoting these sources with his ski masks and fetish face-knits then, ergo: To wear Gucci is to participate in late capitalism as a form of performance art.
M is for Materialism
Luxury until the 1960s was a stealth display. Until the dispersion of the ‘label’ into mass culture, discretion and privacy were the hallmarks of status. In 2018 to wear brand clothing is to wear money in a more explicit way. The entry level? Gucci tennis socks: $150.00. As the market for deliberate conspicuous consumption grows, gestures of affluence become more aggressive. Look to autumn’s white polished snakeskin bag ornamented with a tiger’s head and a logo insignia and a gold chain. To gaze upon this bag is to witness the grotesque pageant of a planet that is dying.
N is for Nullification of the Senses
Craftsmanship is obscured if the object being crafted impersonates an object that is without ritual.
O is for Ouroboros
The Ouroboros in Greek means tail devourer. As one of the most ancient mystical symbols in civilisation, the Ouroboros is represented by a serpent eating it’s own tail. Like Eros and Thanatos, desire and death unite. The Greeks saw it as a symbol of the Milky Way and the cyclic nature of the universe; to the Alchemists, the Ouroboros represented the spirit of mercury and symbol of eternal unity. Serpents encircle the belt buckles, hand-made handles, bracelets and clasps of many Gucci collections. A fitting symbol for a form of luxury that is both cyclic and insatiable. Global brands function as an all-consuming organism, devouring and then regurgitating their lines over and over. Creativity and destruction. Piety and Excess. Life and death. In a word: Handbags.
P is Peanuts
“I think there is really not a difference between a ‘Peanuts’ and a beautiful Renaissance painting. There is something very romantic in ‘Peanuts’- it’s at the same level of a novel or a Jane Austen story or a beautiful embroidered rose fabric. It is a piece of romanticism.” Alessandro Michele
R is for The Renaissance
In the Renaissance Cosimo de’ Medici the first was said to have dressed in dark and lowly raiments to avoid kidnapping or murder. The Renaissance is associated with opulent display and yet one of its chief patrons was covert. If banality is anonymity, gaudy expressions of drabness form the new stealth. Silk that looks like polyester, python that impersonates PVC.
S is for Sumptuary Laws
Fashion has never been a democracy. The hierarchy of dress was entrenched in Elizabethan England where the width of a ruff and the use of lace, silk, embroidery and velvet was limited to those of nobility. Sumptuary laws began in ancient Sparta to govern and maintain the simplicity of the people. Largely, though, these laws were imposed to specify social rank. Class mobility through clothes was criminalised until the nineteenth century. Laws were put in place across Europe but were frequently flouted. The fairytale of Cinderella illustrates the way in which a lowly servant can attract a Prince when dressed in forbidden riches. This myth persists. We dress above our station. We desire what is forbidden. We want to break the law of denim. Montaigne remarked that the sumptuary codes that forbade luxury increased our desire for it. Today Normcore serves the same function. Libertines are more entertaining than puritans. Everyone is gluten free. Let them eat cake.
T is for Terrorism (and Third Eye)
Fashion has replaced the ritual and pageantry of church. It’s where we can think about fear and faith in the context of one outfit. Thank God. Let’s look at the Gucci beanies and ski masks for a minute: Masks obscure the identity. A balaclava evokes Patty Hearst, a government militia squad and a terrorist simultaneously. A beanie is a deflator of glamour yet it almost functions as a crown for an actress or a model. An anti-fashion halo of sorts. A third eye can evoke a Cyclops (who lacks vision) or Shiva (who is all seeing). Wear the beanie to cover the third eye? That’s next season.
U is for Unwell
Because the Gucci models have been subject to extensive style experiments, they have not seen fresh air or sunlight for many days. Their young skin, waxy and pale begins to resemble a cyborg. In the name of fluidity the wellness movement is failing.
V is for Variety
The hybrid male abandons clothing as uniform and adopts the playfulness of costume. The coming woman disturbs rather than reassures. You can’t just wear a cardigan anymore to keep warm. That time is over. Put your homework onto the fire.
“Their young skin, waxy and pale begins to resemble a cyborg. In the name of fluidity the wellness movement is failing.”
X is for X-Ray
The more simply we dress the quicker we can be ‘scanned’ socially. Eccentric fashion confuses the machine because it scrambles the code.
Y is for Youth Culture
“I feel more comfortable surrounded by people who are not like me.” That’s how Alessandro Michele explains his frequent journeys to Los Angeles and his recent fixation with skater chic. Shedding all that mouldy gilt, Italian feudal perversity and archives full of damask and enamel buttons he gets to hang out and study the beanie and the baseball cap in its natural habitat. Michele’s first collections for Gucci were heavy on European heritage and then he found his groove with Americana. At the helm of an atelier full of couture artisans he persists in wearing a trucker’s cap. Someone has to say this out loud and I am going to do it: MAKE GUCCI GREAT AGAIN.
Z is for Zara
Luxury is meant to signify escapism, but to where? To stay ahead of ‘cheap imitation’ the materials of labels such as Prada, Gucci and Givenchy become more and more disparate and ecclesiastical. Then sometimes the collections break full gallop into a skewed mix of mainstream taste. The ghost of acid wash stands in the doorway of ready-to-wear like Banquo. When bad taste comes into play I see a breakdown in the reverse ecosystem of garment manufacture. Because when Zara makes a Gucci style beanie with NY embroidered on the front in actual acrylic, the item will IMPLODE. Ditto the ghastly Top Gun jackets. The idea that a consumer can look rich for less at Zara will fail this season. Only nobility can go slumming. The rest of us are in the gutter staring at the stars. With one nipple exposed and a pair of hiking boots we regret.