“People Need Reality” Alessandro Michele on his Gucci

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“People Need Reality” Alessandro Michele on his Gucci

Michele's myriad worlds have unprecedented pulling power, enticing consumers and critics alike. Here, he unravels his own past, aesthetic obsessions and fabulist fantasies

Jacket and trousers from The Archive of Elton John, designed by Annie Reavey, 1973. Swimsuit by Gucci

Alessandro Michele wears rings on every finger. Whether there are bells on his toes is unknown. Some of these rings he designed: a large wolf finished with a pink ruby, a tiny ivory skull with a rare blue stone between its even tinier gold-rimmed diamond eyes. Others were sourced on one of many antique-shopping excursions: an Elizabethan signet ring, a Victorian snake ring, a vintage emerald surmounted by pearls. There are also multiple pendants around his neck. It was his birthday on 25 November (he’s a Sagittarius) and received the very morning before the afternoon we meet was one necklace in particular, 
a gift from his friends Nick and Susie Cave, of a rose gold hand with a ruby ring of its own. The writer and musician famously has one. Then there’s a second, yellow gold hand and two milk teeth, also elaborately set in gold. These once belonged to his nephews, Tommasso, 12, and Pietro, ten. Michele says he made similar – but simpler – versions for his older sister, Roberta.

“It’s very common to do that in Italy,” he says, although the end result seems anything but. “My sister’s pretty different to me but, like me, she talks a lot. She’s funny. She has a brave and good heart. I have two nephews. My little family: my sister, my nephews and my boyfriend. That’s it.”

Michele has also made jewellery for his boyfriend – they have been together for ten years now. He is Giovanni Attili, 
an urban professor at Sapienza University of Rome, who, it is well documented, spends time in Alaska researching the Dakelh and Haida people there. “For my boyfriend, I cut
 a piece of my hair when it was really long,” Michele says, “plaited it and, like in the Georgian and Victorian ages, made a beautiful pendant with pearls. I love old jewels because they have a history, they tell a story.”

“When Gucci started, it was another age. If you bought a Gucci bag, you belonged 
to the jet set. The jet set doesn’t exist any more. I’m trying to speak to the world, 
to everyone” – Alessandro Michele

And, in that, Michele’s jewellery, both that which he chooses to wear and more conceived by him and given to others, could be seen as a way into his aesthetic as a whole. “It is quite difficult to define my universe,” he told this magazine last 
year, “or any other kind of universe – in just a few words: the fact that we use the word universe means that we are referring to something enlarged, something big. My Gucci universe is inclusive. It fragments to recreate in a contemporary way. 
It tries to achieve chemical effects through the use of different agents. It is a possible universe that sometimes uses an impossible language. I like being in this universe, because it gives me more possibilities.”

And Michele certainly makes the most of these. The world in question spans continents, cultures and centuries: Ancient Rome, Tudor England, Medieval France and – unsurprisingly given his progeny – Renaissance Italy, 30s Paris, 70s London – he remains a committed Anglophile – 80s Harlem... The list goes on. Pre-history? There’s that too. Michele’s Autumn/Winter 2017 print advertising campaign for Gucci was populated with dinosaurs. Not content with our own universe, meanwhile, this moment was also distinctive for the presence of a huge flying saucer and Gucci-clad aliens from outer space. To call Michele a magpie, with that in mind, would be to underestimate the overload and sheer breadth of information that infuses his every collection, from social media and pop iconography – Disney, to name just one – to Botticelli. He makes no distinction between the high and 
low: “Snoopy is a philosopher,” he once told Vogue Runway. And that’s true – frequently, Michele mixes references to Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes with cartoon characters including Snoopy and Donald Duck. They may all be considered philosophers, depending on your perspective. Michele’s perspective, his universe, is indeed an inclusive one: blurring the lines between genres and gender; attracting people of all ages; and from places as culturally diverse as the clothes – as if that were the most obvious thing in the world.

“I always say that I love things that are not clear, things that are in between... I love to be ignorant in a way, that there are a lot of things that I can’t really translate or know, that there are a lot of places that I haven’t been. I’m more like a medieval guy. I prefer to use my imagination than a car or 
a plane” – Alessandro Michele

Michele appropriates and re-appropriates references to the point where, though there’s a certain familiarity to anyone looking on, the overriding sense is one of disorientation. For the forensic fashion follower, the unravelling of sources is fascinating. The rest of us may simply revel in the layer upon layer of vaguely recognisable elements, safe in the knowledge that there is certainly storytelling at work here but that story may be all the more engaging for remaining a mystery. Michele’s Instagram feed adds grist to the mill. Close-ups of old master paintings – a menacing gargoyle, a nobleman’s 
lily-white hand – ancient coins, misty city- and landscapes, key chains on a rosy carpet, a pair of especially elaborate antique doors. For the most part, he doesn’t caption them.

“I always say that I love things that are not clear, things that are in between,” he says. “I love to be ignorant in a way, that there are a lot of things that I can’t really translate or know, that there are a lot of places that I haven’t been. I’m more like a medieval guy. I prefer to use my imagination than a car or 
a plane. Now you can’t just imagine, you need to search Google and find out where everything is. But can you imagine how beautiful it was that back then we didn’t know a lot of things. Our hearts and brains were capable of creating things that didn’t exist, from nowhere. Fashion is about an illusion.”

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Jacket from The Archive of Elton John, designed by Annie Reavey, 1972-73. Body and tights by Gucci. Earrings from Gillian Horsup at Grays Antiques. Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

Alessandro Michele was born in 1972 and grew up on the outskirts of Rome. He studied costume design at the Academy of Costume and Fashion in that city. His father, Vincenzo, worked as a technician for Alitalia, his mother, Eralda, assisted a film executive. Oddly, that melding of worlds – the wanderlust inherently linked to air travel, the fantastical make-believe of cinema – echoes Michele’s design obsessions, as does his initial interest in costume over fashion. His parents were extremely happy together, he says, but very different. “My dad didn’t care. He was like a shaman. He didn’t care about concrete things, about time, he didn’t wear a watch, nothing.” Michele’s father was interested in art however: he sculpted in his spare time and visited churches in Rome with his young son who found himself moved by them – though neither were practising Catholics. “My father always said that we were living where we were for my mum,” Michele continues. “He said: ‘I was thinking when we got married about going to the top of a mountain, we didn’t need a house.’ My mother was really upset with this. So I’m the result of my mum and dad. My mum worked in cinema for a long time, so she loved urban life, the right shade of blonde hair, beautiful dresses, actors, movie stars. She was that sort of 50s girl. She used to say, ‘I don’t like contemporary cinema because I don’t understand why they need to be seen going to the restroom or sleeping without make-up.’ She was completely Hollywood and my dad was like a crazy shaman from the mountains.” Michele can see the roots of his own handwriting in their interests. “I inherited from them the idea of a very eclectic beauty,” he says. “I love Jean Harlow and I love animals.”

The designer remembers one day in Florence, out with 
a friend, coming across his parents who were visiting. “I told my friend, ‘look at my mum,’ and introduced my mum to this friend of mine and afterwards I told him, ‘look at my dad, there’s my dad’. And he was like, ‘Really? You’re kidding me’. The way my dad looked, super long hair, long beard and this huge straw hat during the winter. Properly free. He didn’t care when he was dying. He said we were lucky because we stayed together for a long time, a lot of springs and a lot of winters. He didn’t know my age.”

If there is anything that unifies Alessandro Michele’s collections for Gucci it is surely this sense of freedom learned from his shamanic father. “You need a lot of courage and, at 
a certain point, to think I don’t care, you need to do what you really want to do, otherwise you drown in this ocean of information,” he says. “We are not in the 80s when there were just magazines and books. Now it’s like another world. You can’t keep using the same language, that would be like singing where everyone else is dancing. I think the thing that is helping us and our company is that mine and Marco’s [Bizzarri, Gucci President and CEO] way of working is really open to something different. When Gucci started, it was another age. 
If you bought a Gucci bag, you belonged to the jet set. The jet set doesn’t exist any more. I’m trying to speak to the world, to everyone. It’s beautiful that people go into the store but I don’t want them to feel they have to. It’s more that you can be exactly what you want to be. More than anything, fashion is an expression of a way of life, a point of view. It’s like a universal language. And if you work with empathy towards people, it’s very powerful.”

“We think we are a step ahead but we’re not sometimes. So it seems vintage that a guy can look a little bit like a girl or vice versa. But to me it’s something that’s so, I don’t want to say normal, but it’s so natural. If you think about Monsieur Saint Laurent, or Ossie Clark, or of Elton [John]” – Alessandro Michele

Back in the present, the setting is Rome, not insignificantly a city more historically resonant than most, where the light is softer, somehow, pinker. Pink – soft blush, dusky rose, Schiaparelli shocking – is probably Michele’s favourite colour. If the designer were the subject of a novel it might have been written by Barbara Cartland: his wholehearted embrace of the cliché – hearts, flowers, birds, bees, all of which he describes as belonging to the Gucci Garden and, of course, the colour pink itself – also aligns him to the celebrated dame.

Before visiting Michele at Gucci’s headquarters – Palazzo Alberini-Cicciaporci, a magnificent Renaissance building in the centre of Rome, attributed to Raphael and his first assistant, Guilio Romano – a trip to the Gucci store a stone’s throw away from the Spanish Steps on Via dei Condotti goes some way towards explaining the transformation of such illusion into 
a reality. A lucrative reality to boot. Despite the fact that it is Tuesday morning at around 11, late in November – hardly the most obvious time to shop for fashion – the place is overrun. Staff seem unfazed. Similarly, on London’s Bond Street red ropes are put up outside Gucci on Thursday afternoons and remain throughout the weekend while people queue for the privilege of parting with significant amounts of money for 
a snaffle-buckled shoe or double-G logoed Dionysus handbag, or merely to take a look. Given the current climate such footfall is unprecedented but then Michele’s universe for Gucci is a happy – an apparently naively happy – place to be. Put at its most basic: the depth of colour, texture and sparkle on display is well nigh impossible to resist. A silk rose sprouts from the waistline of a sky blue floor-length dress covered with garlands of gilded leaves. A striped jacket worn with Gucci trackpants is styled with a green and red striped Gucci-branded belt fastened with a diamanté butterfly buckle the size of a saucer. 
A bubblegum pink jacket is worn with an emerald green skirt. Tailoring, bomber jackets and frilled scarf-silk dresses are printed with the type of overblown flowers more common to 50s soft furnishings than fashion fabrics. Here are the sweet jewelled Alice bands that are selling like proverbial hot 
cakes, there are shelves of bags printed with more roses and the words BLIND FOR LOVE, velvet-lined boxes full of crystal in all the colours of the rainbow and pearls the size of boiled sweets and, of course, embroidered velvet slippers, some shearling-lined, others not, with crystal-encrusted heels. There is an overriding sense of being immersed in an unusually discerning, but also wanton, dressing-up box. There are shades of Narnia at play, of passing through a doorway into a strange and more lovely dreamscape.

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Jacket from The Archive of Elton John, designed by Annie Reavey, 1972-73. Body and tights by Gucci. Earrings from Gillian Horsup at Grays Antiques. And boots by Dorateymur. Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

When Alessandro Michele took over at Gucci in January 2015, it occupied nowhere near as buoyant a space as it does now. Frida Giannini had been creative director there for nine years, during which time she and the then-CEO Patrizio di Marco had become partners in their personal as well as working lives. Giannini’s work was glamorous, for sure, but many of her ideas drew on Gucci in the late 90s and early 00s when Tom Ford was at the helm. Fashion, by its very nature, thrives on a short attention span and interest was waning, as were sales. Michele was an insider: Giannini’s associate and head of Gucci’s accessories division. The pair had met while working at Fendi many years before they both left for Gucci in 2002. At the end of 2014 di Marco parted ways with the company; Giannini was due to leave in February, but went
 a month earlier. Marco Bizzarri, the visionary CEO responsible for the reversal of Bottega Veneta’s fortunes moved across to fill the shoes of the former – both companies are owned by the same parent group, Kering, of course. But the creative director role was, officially at least, left vacant. In January Gucci showed a menswear collection that, the rumour mill claimed, had been created in just two weeks, by a design team led by Michele. Giannini had started work on the season, but Michele threw that out, taking the label in a new direction entirely. The whole Gucci team took a bow after that show – Michele wasn’t officially appointed the creative director of Gucci until two days later, and it wasn’t until his first womenswear show the following month that Michele’s impact was really felt. And that impact was considerable.

Models walked at ground level, a far cry from the raised, glossy catwalk favoured by Giannini and Ford before her. Girls and boys came out in thick-rimmed glasses, bobble hats and loafers, some furry on the inside, some on the outside like little monsters – all flat. The fact that Michele had more than
 a passing interest in vintage clothing was immediately identifiable: a swooping jewel-embroidered bird on the front of a 20s-line black velvet dress or a plum red Lurex skirt, a geometric jacquard on a 60s princess coat, lacy sheath and loose-fitting chiffon dresses like the most fragile, lingerie-inspired finds. Then there was the styling, which Michele insists on doing himself to this day: a boyfriend sweater appliquéd with roses over more lace, a nerdy knitted tank over an overblown metallic organza blouse, and a studiously dowdy knife-pleat lamé skirt. Pussy-bow blouses (for him) and masculine tailoring (for her) played with the idea of more liberal fashions from times past. However one chooses to look at it, Michele’s was a very different type of character to the overtly sexualised woman or indeed man that had ruled this runway for years. In this quietly assured designer’s hands the Gucci woman in particular seemed less Glamazon and more Scooby-Doo’s Velma Dinkley, all be she dressed in a sheer, point d’esprit shirt. She was, as is her creator it turns out,
 a gentle, poetic soul.

“The way my dad looked, super long hair, long beard and this huge straw hat during the winter. Properly free. He didn’t care when he was dying. He said we were lucky because we stayed together for a long time, a lot of springs and a lot of winters. He didn’t know my age” – Alessandro Michele

“After years and years working for a lot of different companies, it was so incredible that someone was allowing me to talk about fashion in another way,” Michele says now, referring to the freedom afforded to him at that moment by the forward-thinking Bizzarri who, after spending time talking with the designer, resolved to give him a chance. “I didn’t care: the next day I could have been fired,” Michele continues. 
“I wanted to do something beautiful, that was all. I knew it was inside me. I was surprised when people started talking about genderless fashion. I mean it might seem new now but it wasn’t in the past. We maybe live in an era that’s not so open to everything as we think. We think we are a step ahead but we’re not sometimes. So it seems vintage that a guy can look a little bit like a girl or vice versa. But to me it’s something that’s so, 
I don’t want to say normal, but it’s so natural. If you think about Monsieur Saint Laurent, or Ossie Clark, or Elton [John].”

We are sitting in Michele’s office, a grand, high-ceilinged place that he has by now made his own, filling it with antique velvet sofas and chairs, Persian rugs, piles of old books, cheese plants, old master portraits, taxidermy birds. The air is filled with incense and, throughout the time we spend together, 
the sound of Gregorian Chant.

The designer is unusually open and even unassuming in demeanour and indeed there is still a certain modesty to his collections, a covered-up fragility and subversion of status belying the fact that his Gucci has grown exponentially since his arrival. Just three years into his tenure and Michele has shown Resort collections in the Pitti Palace in Florence and in Westminster Abbey in London. At time of writing it was announced that Gucci Resort 2019 will be located at the ancient site of Alyscamps in Arles at the end of May this year. It is the first time those responsible for the preservation of this historic landmark have agreed to stage such an event. In 2016 meanwhile, Gucci’s Milan headquarters moved to a 35,000 square-metre space inside the former Caproni aeronautical factory on Via Mecenate. Close to Linate airport, it is both geographically and ideologically miles apart from the rest of Milanese fashion – a separate Gucci realm. It brings together all the brand’s Milan offices, showrooms, the runway, and the design and photographic studios, and is home to more than 250 members of staff. And sales are increasing likewise. As of September 2017 the company’s revenue had rocketed 49 per cent, its strongest increase in 20 years.

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Archive 1986 sunglasses by Alain Mikli. 1970s T-shirt from Contemporary Wardrobe. Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

For Michele’s collection this season, guests were met in the brand’s new aircraft hangar-scale showspace by towering fibreglass reproductions of classical antiquities, brought in from Cinecittà Studios in Rome: Joseph L Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra and Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita were both shot there. Lighting was dim. Michele has long played with fashion’s obsession with social media: his backdrop has in the past been red, a colour notoriously difficult to photograph; clothes have been seen through a fine net screen or shrouded in dry ice. This only adds to any magic and, on this occasion in particular, the unadulterated exuberance of the clothes on display. There were more than 100 looks in total, for women and men 
– Michele has always shown both together – and they shone, often quite literally. Imagine a tulle body stocking embroidered with rainbow-hued jewels, a power-shouldered jacket with feathered epaulettes, a shimmering gold cardigan with huge puffed sleeves, a metallic snakeskin miniskirt in multicoloured chevron stripes, country-check tailoring worn with a crystal-encrusted varsity jacket, a gauzy ankle-length dress fit for 
a princess only in sludge colours, a slip covered in sequins. Undercutting such flamboyance were money-spinning Gucci logoed Bambi and Bugs Bunny sweat- and T-shirts, new season loafers, belts and bags and, surely, a soon-to-be bestseller 
– a sugar-almond pink trouser suit. Finally, interspersed with Gucci main line was a capsule collection inspired by the aforementioned rock god and ultimate peacock, Elton John.

“I love him, he’s a great person, a sweet person, an artist,” Michele says now. “He represents a piece of pop culture, the history of the creation of the image in music. To me, his is among the highest expressions of artistry of the 70s and 80s. I was really young at that time. And I remember everything about him.”

The two met at the Vanity Fair Oscar after-party in Los Angeles. They were introduced by Gucci ambassador, Jared Leto. “Jared said, ‘I want to introduce you to a really special person, to Elton, you have to meet him’,” Michele says. “And so we sat together on a sofa talking. He’s a superstar but, 
firstly, he’s an amazing human being, a completely normal, kind person. That is very English, I think. Honestly.”

“The world of Dapper [Dan] was so strong… It’s part of the history of our brands. And no one has ever really talked about how strong Gucci was in terms of street culture. We change the brands, we change Gucci and Louis Vuitton, their aesthetic, their creative directors but the expression of their culture is always alive” – Alessandro Michele

 

Alessandro Michele talked to Elton John about Gianni Versace “as if he was like a brother, they were really close”, 
and about his archive of costumes. “I was obsessed with that,” he says. “He showed me the archive. He has everything. It’s unbelievable, like a store: clothes, jewellery, photographs… It’s like… ” Michele searches for the English idiom – this is 
not his first language: “Santa Claus’s grotto!” As indeed is Gucci, from the show to the store and beyond. Understandably the two men bonded. “We have the same attitude, we love things and beautiful objects,” Michele says. “We share the same obsession for collecting things. So I was completely hypnotised. The clothes were unbelievable. In every piece there is a story, a piece of his heart, of his song.”

Elton John is enamoured of Michele’s Gucci in return: he is, by all accounts, among the brand’s best customers. Less well known, as Michele duly lets slip, is the fact Gucci will be dressing the star for his swansong tour, an international, 
two-year blockbuster, announced at the beginning of this year. “What a privilege,” Michele says. “It means so much to me.”

So, it might be argued that this season’s open homage to the archive in question was an especially high-profile dress rehearsal for the main event: a pink and peach jumpsuit embroidered with silver stars, a jacket embroidered with hearts, a purple trouser suit with grass-green snakes. Lest anyone be in any doubt regarding the provenance of these looks, Michele took the trouble to stamp more clothes with 
the name of the designer behind many of the original pieces: Bob Mackie. “I did it because I love him too, I love Bob Mackie,” he says with a smile. “I am a fan.”

“I love [Elton], he’s a great person, a sweet person, an artist... He represents a piece of pop culture, the history of the creation of the image in music. To me, his is among the highest expressions of artistry of the 70s and 80s. I was really young at that time. And I remember everything about him” – Alessandro Michele

Michele has not always been so transparent. In May last year at the Gucci Resort collection shown in Florence a mink jacket that appeared to be a direct copy of one designed by Dapper Dan (real name Daniel Day) who, throughout the 80s, ran one of New York’s most celebrated cult stores, whipped up a not-so-quiet storm. Located in Harlem, 
his studio was frequented by Mike Tyson, LL Cool J, and Erik B & Rakim all in search of heavily logoed fur and leather pieces to wear in the spotlight. His underground appropriation of labels including Louis Vuitton and, of course, Gucci was counterfeiting on a higher level and, given this was the time that designer fashion fully realised its power, such names were rich pickings. The only significant difference between the jacket that Michele copied and the original was the sleeves: 
he replaced the Vuitton logo with Gucci’s interlocking Gs.

Day talked to The New York Times: “I was very surprised,” he said. “Everyone was. It was a wild moment.” Michele responded in the same article: “For me, we can talk about appropriation a lot,” he said. “I didn’t put a caption on it because it was so clear.”

The story has a happy ending. In 1992, Day closed his doors and since then has only designed very occasionally for private clients. At the end of last year, he opened a new atelier, a 4,700 square-metre space in a historic brownstone, supported by Gucci, and now produces clothing and accessories using materials provided by the company. In a similar vein, the year before, Michele collaborated with Gucci-obsessed New York-based graffiti artist, GucciGhost (né Trevor Andrew, a former Olympic snowboarder) whose name springs from his wearing 
a Gucci sheet with a pair of eyes cut out of it one Halloween. Mr Ghost, who, to his own surprise, garnered quite a following on social media (#GucciGhost) was also invited into the 
fold, commissioned to paint words including REAL and LOVE – as well as his interpretation of the Gucci logo and, it almost goes without saying, a ghost – onto a capsule range of clothing and accessories. Inevitably, it sold out.

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Jacket by Gucci. Archive Mr Freedom T-shirt from Contemporary Wardrobe. Trousers from Angels The Costumiers. And earrings by Reine Rosalie. Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

“The world of Dapper was so strong,” Michele says today of the more recent collaboration. “It’s part of the history of our brands. And no one has ever really talked about how strong Gucci was in terms of street culture. We change the brands, we change Gucci and Louis Vuitton, their aesthetic, their creative directors but the expression of their culture is always alive. The idea that, I don’t know where, on the other side of 
this earth, someone is appropriating our language is incredible. That’s why I feel free to talk about those people. It’s important to say something real. People really need reality. We can try to argue that Gucci is just about catwalk but it’s not true. Gucci is a really huge expression of different things. It’s a symbol.”

Gucci was founded by Guccio Gucci, who opened a store 
in his birthplace of Florence in 1921 selling luggage inspired 
by the guests he saw coming in and out of the Savoy Hotel 
in London where he had worked as a young man. When a League of Nations embargo protesting Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia was put in place, a shortage of leather in Italy forced Guccio to design bags and suitcases made out of hemp. The fabric was sourced in Naples and printed with interconnecting diamonds in dark brown on a light brown background with only a leather trim. These were an unlikely success leading to Guccio – now with his three sons, Aldo, Vasco and Rodolfo, working alongside him – opening more stores in Rome and Milan. In 1953, the year Guccio died, the Gucci loafer with the metal horse-bit was born. A year later, the house crest became 
a registered trademark and Gucci stores opened in New York, London, Paris and, over the decades that followed, all over 
the world.

It was during the 60s that Gucci became a byword for luxury and jet-set style. Jackie Kennedy carried a Gucci bag, the Flora scarf print was designed for Princess Grace of Monaco. The company prospered through the 70s, as its leather goods and now ready-to-wear business expanded. Everyone who was anyone was happy to wear, carry or be photographed in Gucci designs. During the 80s, beleaguered by in-fighting and intrigue, Gucci was brought to the brink of bankruptcy. Rodolfo’s son, Maurizio took over the company following his father’s death in 1983 and promptly sacked his uncle Aldo. Maurizio failed to invigorate the by now dusty brand and was forced to sell Gucci to Bahrain-based private equity firm, Investcorp, in 1988. Outright scandal ensued when Maurizio was murdered by a hitman in Milan in 1995. His former wife, Patrizia Reggiani (later nicknamed Lady Gucci by the tabloids) was convicted of hiring his killer and imprisoned for 16 years.

“Tom [Ford] invented something that didn’t exist too. He invented another dream – completely new but also resonant of the past and this beautiful 70s hedonism. He was a man of his age” – Alessandro Michele

It has been argued that when Alessandro Michele took over from Frida Giannini he threw the baby out with the bath water, unceremoniously erasing 25 years of Gucci. Nothing could be further from the truth: his point of view – his universe – is conversely heavily indebted to the brand’s heritage. Wander through the Gucci Museo in Florence, opened in 2011, and the outfits there – particularly those from Gucci’s original jet-set heyday, the loafers and lurex logos, languid silhouettes and intricate, decorative details including horse and ram heads as buttons or buckles – delineate the aesthetic ancestry of Michele’s singular approach.

“I love this brand, it’s an amazing platform,” he says, 
“It’s a brand that has the most amazing history and the most contemporary appeal. It’s like a very beautiful old lady that you can’t resist: every day you discover something new. I mean, I knew a lot of things about the company. It’s full of richness. Starting out in Florence, it’s full of the Renaissance. It’s full of craftsmanship. There is also love, love because it was the intention of a little family to realise the most unbelievable dream. It’s unbelievable that they started out with what was really a laboratory and created this empire. It’s like a fairytale. And then there was the most unbelievable murder, this scandal, like a movie.”

The same year that Maurizio Gucci was murdered, Domenico de Sole was appointed CEO at Gucci. Tom Ford had been hired as creative director in 1994.

“Gucci is also the history of Tom,” Michele states. He worked with Ford and Frida Giannini both in London, where the older designer’s office was based, and Florence, where there is still a Gucci studio today. “Tom invented something that didn’t exist too. He invented another dream – completely new but also resonant of the past and this beautiful 70s hedonism. He was a man of his age. Tom invented this glamorous image of this sexy, and in a way dreamy, woman and man. There was this amazing perfection, everything was well done, which expressed the way he was.”

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Jumpsuit by Gucci. Earrings by Reine Rosalie. And stilettos by Christian Louboutin. Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Katie Shillingford

Gucci, today, has likewise been recreated in the mould of Michele – eclectic, artistic, multi-faceted. Michele undoubtedly has enormous respect for Ford: it was at his insistence that, in 2016, the brand added 54 Tom Ford outfits to the museum; previously, there were none. And while Michele and Ford’s interpretations of Gucci may appear diametrically opposed, there are similarities. “Gucci became the territory of the party girl,” says Michele, of the label under Ford. “It was all about the way you look but also not clearly defined. You didn’t know in the campaigns if the people were together, if you were looking at two men or two women. It’s really interesting how we are attracted to things that are not really clear.”

I ask Alessandro Michele if he were a jewel, what stone would he be. His answer is unexpected – paradoxical, even, given that assertion. “A diamond,” he replies immediately. 
“I love diamonds because of their history. They bring the most beautiful light but also the saddest history. People have fought for such a long time to take this beautiful stone out of the earth. And the earth took a long time to make something so perfect. Then the other thing is that diamonds are so clear. The more you are transparent, the more you shine. Isn’t that beautiful? When you are really transparent you shine – the more transparent you are, the more deeply you shine.”

Hair: Recine for Rodin. Make-up: Peter Philips for Dior. Set design: Randall Peacock at The Magnet Agency. Manicure: Yuko Tsuchihashi at Susan Price using Deborah Lippman. Digital tech: Nick Ong. Photographic assistants: Nick Brinley, Maru Teppei, Kris Shacochis and Will Takahashi. Styling assistants: Molly Shillingford and Jessica Gerardi. Hair assistant: Kabuto Okuzawa. Make-up assistant: Kuma. Set-design assistants: Todd Knopke and Hisham Bharoocha. Producer: Gracey Connelly. Post-production: Dtouch NYC.

This full story originally featured in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of AnOther Magazine which is on sale now.