Alessandro Michele and Hollywood consummated their long courtship Tuesday night with Love Parade, Gucci’s latest show. Michele is the designer of the moment, a binary-buster whose runway clothes take inspiration from a benighted gendered yore in order to blend, swap, and exaggerate the familiar into dizzyingly unrecognizable and liberatory forms. Hollywood was slow to recognize Michele’s project, but, as gender play began to become big business (again) and an essential part of contemporary narrative, the film industry recognized in Michele a familiar approach.
It takes extended residence in Los Angeles to recognize among its residents an abiding respect for its history with film. Noteworthy filming locations and ex-houses of dead stars, far from ignored, are piously pointed out with the quiet respect characteristic of a company town. As an old factory of progressive values, there is perhaps a natural affinity between the city and a designer who prefers a dialogue with the past as a means for moving forward.
The models performed a small circuit of Hollywood Boulevard, emerging from The Chinese Theatre and proceeding down a section of the the Walk of Fame, where the show’s celebrity audience sat in branded director’s chairs. Proceeding across the eerily empty street to reach the sidewalk opposite seemed like space wasted until the end of the show when, emerging again from the Chinese Theatre, the models swarmed the street together for their final bow. So many Hollywood images, emerging as if at the wings of a stage, on a break (remember though, the Chinese theatre was always a movie palace), a (better) reflection of the showbiz celebrities who made up the audience. Hollywood always finds this kind of thing flattering.
So too are celeb models, but Michele took care that they weren’t obvious. Jared Leto is a longtime supporter and muse of Michele’s. He walked in a signature check jacket and white leather pants with cowboy boots, looking sunburnt, small and ordinary, a reminder of what freaks runway models are. Macaulay Culkin was a clever middle finger to the influencer generation, a recluse dressed here like the guy at a Palm Springs restaurant who bullies the waiter: “Take the menu away and order me exactly what you like.” His shimmering sports jacket was beautiful and fitted his short square body perfectly. A tailor’s inclusiveness.
This LA show is appropriate for Michele in part because of the failures of his concept. A gorgeous retrospective of twentieth-century typecasting, the titularly women’s pieces include decadent variations on stock feminine roles: the seductive Oriental in a chainmail fitted cap; baselayers in sci-fi synthetics paired with horse blinder glasses; the musician St. Vincent in sexy leather, a feathered cape and finned glasses as the sinister suburban subversive; and a great deal of play with lingerie, an innovation no doubt given new life by Hollywood and a reminder that suggestions of the body used once upon a time to shock. These looks throughout the show are mashed-up and combined, the different eras and references together suggesting a lark in a studio costume department.
But it is precisely because Michele’s clothes have always looked like costumes that we have always struggled to wear our Gucci pieces, the beloved suits in particular. The costume effect plays a large part in Michele’s success in this collective gender fluid moment. For all the talk of discarding binaries, there is, as always, a desire to push at the boundaries of gender categories without exceeding them. Young people seem to want to announce their desire to be/not be a girl or boy today, rather than dismissing the categories entirely. Retaining the references gives license to play and irony. What, after all, is a costume but a garment temporarily donned and just as quickly discarded, a personality or idea rented? Contrast this approach with Daniel Lee’s most recent show at Bottega Veneta, where an androgynous futurism prevails. The choice between glam Dickies denim and monochrome clinging fringe tennis dresses, however tempting, both point to a danger of a future without reference to our gendered past. There is less opportunity for the play and exchange that Michele understands. Here instead we have the monotony of an unloved uniform.
The trouble is that these Gucci clothes are for sale, and not inexpensively. When we leave the house in a Gucci suit, headed for a civilian dinner outing, we do so in our thickest skincare products. It is always a challenge to be the only one in the room living the open-minded future. Celebrities have developed a workaround for this. They are photographed in safer logo “essentials”—shoes, knitwear, belts, the logo serving like the watermark on a banknote as a tacit, unspoken assent to the label’s values. All the benefits then, and none of the work. It is those of us who brave the streets in our runway pieces that are the real heroes. Onward!