Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele says the blackface controversy has had a deep impact on the company and provided a learning experience for everyone.
Michele, speaking to reporters back stage after Gucci opened Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday, said the lessons were not linked to creativity but to how the company operates. Gucci announced it would hire directors for diversity and take other measures after facing a backlash for a balaclava sweater that evoked blackface.
Michele said he took full responsibility for the misstep. He said after experiencing the “displeasure” of the controversy, “I hold on to the beauty of having learned. I learned a lot. This remains. It is not just a moment of emotion. I think it deeply affected the work of the company.”
Highlights from Wednesday’s shows:
Alessandro Michele’s latest collection for Gucci was shown under unrelenting, even blinding, strobe lights that the designer said in some way evoked the intensity of everyday life. A religious hymn played as the models walked deliberately, almost robotically.
Michele chose a mask as the metaphor for the collection, noting that “clothing is our mask, which both shows and hides.”
The show invitation was glued inside a paper-mache mask of Hermaphrodite, a homage to his exploration of genderless dressing. “The ancient world sang about the marvels of being between two sexes. Today it is one of the more difficult masks to wear, but being a hybrid is a blessing,” Michele said.
Still, the combined menswear and womenswear collection had a tougher, more masculine edge, shrinking ever so slightly from the designer’s gender-bending musings of past seasons. It was at its heart the exploration of the suit, with broad shoulders and unfinished edges and a stronger silhouette.
The looks also combined a sense of protection and also aggression with spiky accents on the looks and on belts worn cross body. An elaborate ruffle and lace collar peaked out of an overcoat, worn with baggy trousers. Boyish striped sweaters tucked into patterned jeans.
For women there were pretty silken shirts with pleated peplums over straight skirts. A grey jacket featured three concentric rounded collars, like shawls, worn with trouser pants.
Gold-cast ear covers gave a theatrical accent to the looks.
Michele worked at Fendi as a young designer under Karl Lagerfeld. A day after the design legend’s death, Michele recalled a man with the spirit of Peter Pan.
Michele said Lagerfeld called him “DJ” for his musical choices and insisted that the music be played at full blast.
“I loved him a lot. I am deeply sorry and not fully aware of the fact that he is no longer here. I have the impression that it is only news in the newspapers,” Michele said.
Milan-based Austrian designer Arthur Arbesser has little chance of cultural missteps in his collections. His inspiration is from the world around him _ from the architecture outside his Milan studio, to the checkerboard tiles of his bathroom to the durable Loden fabrics of his native Austria.
“I don’t even pretend to try to go too far. I just go where I am, and what I am surrounded with, and straightforward, honest collection, basically,” Arbesser said backstage.
The colour palette of the collection included muted checks in mango, lime and lavender, against larger contrasts of orange against dark blue. The contrasts playing well against the colour-dotted rock-climbing wall backdrops.
The collection effused an urban modernity. Handkerchief skirts were worn with print blouses inspired by an abacus. Ribbed knitwear featured ruffle-y edges down the sleeves and long the hems. T-shirt dresses were overlaid with bodices and worn over stretchy jersey wear. A long Loden dress flowed monastically. Jackets belted over harlequin patterned tops and pleated business skirts.
“Literally, some of the things are my stuff. I mean this is my old tuxedo jacket when I was 18, and this is my boy scout pants from when I was a teenager. We just redid them in very feminine fabrics, and all the sudden they were working,” Arbesser said.
ANANAKIKI EMBRACES IMPERFECTION
Chinese designer Anna Yang’s Annakiki says her line speaks to dorky girls, who are imperfect and socially awkward _ but are able to express their personalities through their wardrobe.
Yang’s fifth collection to be shown in the Milan runway features animal prints on long, soft wool skirts worn with overcoats, a sweatshirt that can be worn also sideways, or a perfectly tailored jacket with a machine embroidered hole. Edges are left deliberately frayed.
“The season is about embracing imperfection. The designs are flawed on purpose,” she said.
The collection transcends geography and speaks to millennials, who like to mix technical fabrics, like an athletic legging, with more classic fashion pieces, like a red denim jacket decorated with braids of yarn. Yang puts drama in the looks with big shoulders including a bold a woolen suit jacket with kimono cut arms with a wave-inspired sleeve and a padded peplum in a soft purple plaid.
Yang said she likes to portray imperfection and seeks diversity in her runway models, not just girls who are classically beautiful. She said that by focusing on diversity, brands can avoid cultural missteps.
No. 21 UNZIPPED
Alessandro Dell’Acqua’s looks for next fall and winter were decidedly unzipped and mostly down the back.
From the front, the looks were prim and proper, mostly monochromatic. But down the back, everything was coming purposely undone, zippers left agape and matching panties showing. The designer said he was inspired by Brian De Palma’s film noir “Dressed to Kill.”
Dresses were worn off the shoulders revealing a knit-bra top. A ruffle-hem baby-doll dress was left carelessly unzipped, held together only by a strap at the nape. Open-back dresses were worn like tunics over trousers. Panels hung like trains down the back of trenches. Raincoats were left agape in the back.
JIL SANDER SOFTENS THE SILHOUETTE
Lucie and Luke Meier’s collection for Jil Sander played with an elongated silhouette for women.
Long black wool dresses achieved a sexiness with a deep plunging V-neck. An oversized men’s shirt with a heron printed on the back was worn tunic-like over wide-legged black trousers. A satiny tunic belted over a long skirt with futuristic cut-out detailing. A fuzzy, long yellow sweater ruffled gently in the air over grey trousers. Velvety corduroy leggings fit under a matching tunic.
The shoes were rigorously flats, some booties and some Japanese Tabi shoes. Bags were big, geometric and flat.