Gucci spring/summer 2016 menswear review: a masterfully mixed-up proposal

The spring 2016 collection presented today in Milan is a luxurious, superbly-executed collection by Alessandro Michele.

Détournement is the Situationist principle of appropriating existing work, then “remixing” it, subverting its meaning to create antagonism and uproar.

You don’t hear it used in a fashion context - maybe because it sounds pretentious. And maybe because fashion generally does the opposite, filching from the counter-culture to sanitise, anaesthetise and sell to the masses. Italian fashion is especially adroit at that - Gianni Versace’s safety-pin studded, Liz Hurley-harnessing “punk” collection is the most obvious and extreme example.

What is détournement in a fashion show, then? How about a frilly pussy-bow blouse displaced to the body of a man? Or others in brocade pyjamas or guipure lace shorts, the whole thing presented with the label “Gucci” sewn in the back? Gucci would be the Florentine label hitherto known for snaffle-buckled loafers and a lounge lizard lothario style, for sharp, slick, somewhat stale suiting. The kind of brand where a boy in a blouse would cause an uproar.

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Gucci spring/summer 2016

It kind of a did and kind of didn’t, when it came to Gucci’s spring/summer 2016 menswear show on the penultimate day of Milan menswear week. It didn’t because Gucci’s incumbent creative director, Alessandro Michele, has been knotting his men up in reclamations of the more conservative echelons of the female wardrobe since January, when he unofficially helmed Gucci’s winter menswear show (his appointment was announced 48 hours after).

That collection, a jumble-sale rag-bag bunch of odd, grannified clothes for men and women, is now trickling into Gucci stores, sitting uncomfortably with the pseudo-seventies styles that chimed with those lothario clothes of Gucci’s previous creative head Frida Giannini. Hence the fact a number of men at this show were sporting Michele’s looks, with varying degrees of success.

At the same time, there was a prickly, unconvinced air that hung over this presentation, of a collection heaving with richness, sloppy suits cut of upholstery jacquards and corsages and bows clasping throats. That’s all part and parcel of that détournement - Michele seems well aware that what he’s doing is going to get people’s backs up, particularly at Gucci, whose blueprint has hitherto been slinky seventies sexuality, for him and her. That stuff is a long hangover from Tom Ford’s 1990s tenure, when Gucci was catapulted from bankruptcy to fashion powerhouse in half a decade.

 

Many still see Gucci’s customer as synonymous with that era. They ignore the fact that fashion has moved on, and that the house - which accounts for around 65% of turnover at its parent group, Kering - has experienced waning consumer interest and slipping share prices. It’s commercial cardiac arrest.

The solution? Shock treatment.

Ignore the intellectualising mumbo-jumbo, and that’s the point of what Alessandro Michele’s doing. He’s doing it well. What this collection boiled down to, minus the Situationist cant, was a luxurious, superbly-executed and masterfully mixed-up proposal of individualistic items that will appeal to a broad swathe, rather than that narrow niche of narrow-hipped Gucci devotees. Given that the label’s sales fell another 7.9% in the first quarter of 2015, those devotees don’t seem that devoted.

But Gucci is still going. And if it’s got a pulse, it’s got a chance.

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