In an industry like this one, someone will always occupy the role of The One Who Got Everything Right. Sometimes purposefully but often accidentally, the vision put forth by a particular brand and its creative director will dominate every thought and conversation. It will inspire imitators and spur fawning and jealousy. It will make everyone wonder how high they can go before their eventual fall.
Everyone in the fashion industry knows the tale of Gucci’s tumults. The ousting of Frida Giannini and Patrizio di Marco. The installment of Alessandro Michele almost immediately afterwards. To understand how rare that type of quick turnover is one only has to look at Dior and Lanvin. Both continue to be run by creative teams months after the sudden departures of their creative directors and will continue to do so for at least the near term. But even more surprising than the speed of Michele's placement is the full-throated praise and hasty acceptance that has followed each of his handful of collections.
But rave reviews, red carpet appearances, magazine covers, and street style snaps don’t always translate to dollars spent. Gucci, however, is a darling in every sense of the word. After years of stagnating sales, the numbers have gone up in the wake of Michele’s installation. In an unstable retail environment where brands of all stripes are seeking new avenues in which to connect with customers, Gucci stands out as something of an aberration as it begins to regain some of that pre-recession magic that everyone craves.
What has Michele done that so many others have not? From his first runway show for Fall 2015, he has created collections that stir the blood.
Whether love or hate, Michele's collections for Gucci produce passionate responses in those who see them. There is very little to be found in the middle. I watched the Fall 2016 show while sitting on a bus as it weaved through Echo Park towards Downtown Los Angeles and the office tower where I spend my weekdays. Once situated at my desk after taking care of a few things, I took a moment to look back at the still images of the collection. There was a lot of there there. 70 looks in total, a number one only tends to see from Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, and each one bursting with prints and sequins and layers and veils.
Recent history has been witness to a slowing of the trend cycle. To the joy of some and the chagrin of others, styles stick around for longer than a season or two. How many seasons in a row have designers been playing with the motifs of the 1970s? How long has transparency in formal wear hounded us on every red carpet? Collections have begun to bleed into each other as you move from house to house. You can see some of the most popular trend notes in the tale that Michele is weaving, they are difficult to avoid altogether, but his story calls for further unpacking. And when unpacked, it features pieces that are luscious and alive in a way that many other collections are not. These are not clothes for the boring.
And what does fashion hate more than anything? Boredom. Trends that lend themselves to such categorization, like the recently prominent normcore, are often laced with irony and a wink to combat the assignation. But the problem with not being boring, with taking risks and embracing brashness, is that the heights may be higher but they are often short-lived. I could list brands that had their moments, that flew close to the Sun only to realize to late that they were too close, before crashing back to Earth, but the names could fill a book. To maintain the balance between the love and the hate in your favor is a tricky game and failure is easy. Not only is it easy but there are also those who cheer for it. The fashion industry is not immune to pulling down its golden children and delighting in the downfall. The flip side of being obsessed with what is cool is being obsessed with what is uncool. There is often a rush to be the first to name both.
But worse than being hated is settling somewhere in the middle. Hatred in this context can be rebranded. Disinterest cannot.
Will Michele's vision withstand the test? This is a question that is impossible to answer but many eagerly wait to find out.