How did the paradox of the universe, full of prismatic galaxies and endless emptiness, come to be? How can the light of a dead star still shine? What legends do we tell ourselves to explain the figures we see sparkling in the night sky?
What in the heck does any of this have to do with fashion?
Seemingly, very little. But when it comes to the mind of Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci, everything. It contains universes unto itself, full of swirling chiffon and lamé, baseball caps and nerdy glasses, whole star systems of sequins and suits, plus random philosophical black holes into which everything occasionally gets sucked. Not to mention a whole set of high priests and priestesses like Jared Leto and Dakota Johnson dedicated to modeling his particular brand of sartorial mythology.
Such was clear on Monday, anyway, when the annual ritual of the Gucci cruise show took place in Puglia, Italy, at the Castel del Monte in the light of the moon. A 13th-century military castle on the edge of the Adriatic created as a sort of paean in stone and octagons to humanist principles and both Eastern and Western traditions, it is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
Yup, less than a week after Louis Vuitton unveiled its cruise collection at the Salk Institute in San Diego, here was another resort show in a rarely seen architectural masterpiece of great aesthetic and intellectual meaning.
Called “Cosmogonie,” the Gucci collection was inspired, according to the show notes, not just by the “study of the evolutionary behavior of the universe” of the title (at least as Britannica defines it), but also by the German philosophers Walter Benjamin, of “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” and Hannah Arendt, the desire to collect the meaningful quotes of others and the whole idea of “constellation thinking.” Which is to say, connecting past and present to create “previously unknown configurations of reality that can break the constraints of tradition.”
Whew. Got that? To a certain extent it’s just a fancy way of explaining what fashion does all the time: think into the future, to help evolve the past. But in Mr. Michele’s hands it’s also a literal practice that essentially means kooky new combinations of otherwise familiar clothes that explode a lot of old social rules about who is allowed to wear what when.
Admittedly, if you have been following his work since he started his Gucci revolution in 2015, his smash-ups don’t look all that new any more. But they still have a gravitational pull and energy all their own.
Against the soaring towers of the medieval castle and the dulcet strains of the voice-over from the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, came an elaborate old Hollywood burgundy velvet gown festooned with silver roses — and a diamond-shaped cutout at the midriff to frame the belly button — paired with bug-eye shades.
There were thigh-high leather gladiator boots under sheer floor-sweeping dresses that barely veiled the skin beneath or shaggy faux furs. Latex opera gloves with almost everything. Chain-mail capes atop button-up shirts. Elaborately encrusted and embroidered denim. Detachable Pierrot ruffs and strawberry purses. Finally, an ink-blue gown with Orion’s Belt and the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia sparkling atop.
The constellations had landed! One small step for a wardrobe. One giant step to redefine our obsession with stars. The scientific, not human, kind.