Since assuming the creative reins of Gucci in 2015, designer Alessandro Michele has traveled the globe, staging shows in New York City, London, Florence, Arles, and at the Le Palace theatre in Paris, but for the brand’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection, Michele returned home to Milan to escape from reality and reinvent the masked disguise. Invitations took the form of paper-mache masks depicting Hermaphroditus – the two-sexed child of Aphrodite and Hermes in ancient Greek mythology – a logical precursor to a collection centered on social identity and disguise.
The show’s capacious setting was staged with floor to ceiling mirrors, dotted with more than 120,000 LED light bulbs. As intense music and war drums blared through the speakers, models paraded down the 100-meter long, elliptical-shaped runway, donning leather and plastic masks, surrealist jewelry, animal-inspired headpieces, and a slew of accessories further emphasizing themes of shielding and protection. As Michele explained in post-show interviews, “A mask is hollow but also full. It conceals and reveals; it’s a defense and a welcome sign.”
In keeping with the season’s focus on high fashion means of defense, accessories were also realized as protective gear, such as visor hats, eye patches, Gucci-branded shin guards and knee pads, and spiked medieval-looking chokers inspired by 16th and 17th-century collars the designer once spotted at auction.
Despite a keenness for anonymity and disguise, the 87-look collection read more like a ‘best of’ Gucci, chalk full of Michele’s quintessentially out-there idiosyncrasies. Oversized glasses, argyle sweaters, boxy suiting and vintage ties were aplenty, as were floral brocades, statement outerwear, houndstooth textiles, and Victorian-era references. Contradiction was also an evident dialogue, as fierce leather looks were styled with colorful lace tights, followed by a myriad of soft florals and Pierrot collar dresses bearing raw edges and unfinished hemlines.
As the show concluded and the kaleidoscope of techno lights dimmed, Michele’s primary objective of the collection was most fully realized, having offered a cacophony of elaborate designs with ambiguous undertones which ultimately gave the audience far more to think about than merely the season’s trends.