They appeared some days before opening. The incomplete stage, situated beneath the grand dome and visible from balconies above, was at the ground floor covered in black shroud. Like the members of a traveling theater troupe, staff in performance dress stood outside it with arms crossed, speaking earnestly. Of what? Peculiarities of acoustics? The customs of patronage in this region? In gold tracksuits they resembled nothing so much as off-duty members of a 1970s Formula One team, the offhand glitter of their clothes producing in the rural circuit-town a longing for urban glamour. And it is precisely to honouring this decade, and this desire for a material memento from these otherworldly jinn—a sticker, a used sparkplug, a cap—that Alessandro Michele has committed his Gucci.
We have all, for the most part, been with him, too.
American media have thrilled to the gender-bending qualities of recent Gucci collections. Famous rich young men appeared on magazine covers wearing pieces from women’s collections. Less famous younger people on younger media platforms embraced and embellished this aspect of Michele’s Gucci, part of this country’s ancient insistence on manifesting some—any—kind of destiny. In the face of economic and environmental apocalypse, we shall meet it, we learned, amidst gender and sexual freedom.
And what could be a more relevant reference to our dizzying present, more flattering to the intelligence of the masses who line up at Gucci stores (like no place else now save Louis Vuitton) than the American 1970s? Frills, bell bottoms, lacy collared shirts and pointy lapelled jackets, yes, but also messy imperial wars with disastrous withdrawals, stagflation and liberatory politics fractured by questions of inclusion.
Michele’s lookbooks, of sumptuous Victorian/1970s hybrid interiors in freshly faded colours, point to a simpler explanation of his preferred references: these chaotic years, as translated by Michele, involved a maximalist interpretation of colour, print, and cut. There was more, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty. Subsequent decades made more space for irony, for slick monochromes or a deliberate dowdiness, which we see renewed, for example, by Demna Gvasalia. But who would pay for that garbage? Michele, by the play involved in his—admittedly not very revolutionary—nostalgic return to an earlier decade’s preoccupations, can have his cake and eat it: make pretty clothes without taking a previous era, or our own, too seriously. After all, surely some bullies wore bell bottoms, too.
Who better than Michele, a virtuoso of liberatory lateness, to celebrate 100 years of Gucci? The anniversary Gucci pop-up at South Coast Plaza contains marvels, though on entrance a soberly suited employee couldn’t confirm quite what.
“I write on fashion. Could you tell me the inspiration for that green installation? A train station?”
A blank, but nevertheless widening smile. “Yes it could be.”
I wondered if this was affected mystery or the inoffensive (and thus offensive) enforced open-mindedness of our times. Inside, however, I was given by a second staffer a beautifully measured tour of the collection, including the archival details which represent the efforts of past collections and designers. The women’s patterned trench coat is stunning, the more archival and baroque shoes a joy, and the wool men’s jacket (light of colour yet double-breasted?!) in anniversary tapestry particularly covetable. The latter we learned integrates references to pop music lyrics which label-checked the house.
It is easier to have nostalgia for a period one does not deeply know. Anyway, it’s a familiar furrow. Celine, and its cover band Saint Laurent (we knew it was the idea all along but didn’t imagine it would come off so easily) are also firmly embedded in a ’70s aesthetic, though this is shifting as Hedi Slimane plays with a bolder language of logo streetwear. For consideration of an alternative epoch, Bruno Sialleli’s Lanvin has interested us since his first men’s collections swerved, unlike Slimane and Michele, not from the 1990s, but to it. Reflecting on this period of superficial socio-economic consensus, of the end of history, but also of irony (which Michele has had to inject back into his cherished references-Slimane doesn’t use it), Sialleli crafted a composite tailoring which examined the ’90s prehistory of athleisure: oversized and athletic but paired with slightly too cute prints. This frisson, that the forever loungy jeans and Footlocker look did flatter some boys, and can look really good on really pretty models, was a brave move in a market with a wariness of artistically addressing recent decades of pop culture.
The men’s looks in the Spring 22 show baffle us. If Sialleli in his first shows at Lanvin hovered over an innovative combination of post-Loewe sailor boy and forbidden straight boy ‘90s nu-nostalgia, he appears in this show to have yanked hard on the stick, pulling out of the landing. The pieces here are monochrome, gone are the contrast collars, all of it in Kim Jones Dior purples and blues. Jackets, in the previous shows matching oversized trousers with thoughtfully piped sleeves, are wider now all over, thus eliminating their distinctive internal tension. Half-hearted shaggy dog and boucle numbers look a lot like Daniel Lee’s first shows at BV. There are a few graphic prints, which seem fine, but in a not unisex show with 11 men’s looks, we have no story for them. The meat of Lanvin’s men’s collections, that interesting tailoring and play on the unconscious athleisure boy, is buried on the website and on the racks in-store. For the men, then, why even bother with the show?