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Gucci’s Alessandro Michele takes the fashion crowd behind the seams

At the label’s autumn/winter 2020 presentation in Milan on Wednesday (Feb 19), Michele created a set resembling backstage at a fashion show. The idea was to showcase not just the finished product but also the linings and seams.

Gucci’s Alessandro Michele takes the fashion crowd behind the seams

Gucci's autumn/winter 2020 collection was presented on a set designed to look like a backstage, with editors, journalists, influencers and fashion buyers allowed to roam among the models and backstage staff. (Screengrab: YouTube)

Fashion is full of strange, archaic rituals. For designers, there is the ritual of making and presenting fashion collections six months before they’ll ever be bought or worn; for journalists, the ritual of viewing and reporting on those collections, which require the toil of hundreds of models, stylists, dressers and make-up artists, most of whom do their work unobserved. Those collections are shown, hour after hour, season after season, year after year, in a four-week stretch across New York, London, Milan and Paris – a dizzying cycle of, wash, rinse, repeat.

“We share the same job,” Gucci’s Alessandro Michele told a room of bemused reporters following his show at the company’s campus-like headquarters. It was Wednesday, the opening day of Milan Fashion Week, and most had taken early flights in from London.

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He’s been working in fashion for 25 years, he said, and at the end of a fashion show, he’s deeply tired. “And I think that your role is also tiring, because in a circular way you travel from place to place, to find the right words, to look for visions.”

And so he decided to swap places with us journalists, to show us not just the finished product but also the linings and seams. Behind panes of glass on a revolving circular platform, Michele’s own team of grey-suited dressers, hairstylists and make-up artists moved as if preparing for a show backstage.

Sixty looks hung from rails marked with numbers and the names of models such as Elaine, Li and Delphi, who stepped out of white cotton robes and into lacy Gone with the Wind-esque ball gowns, severe Quaker coats and hats, and baby-doll dresses fastened under black leather harnesses. Just as his teams were on display for us, so we were on display for them.

The effect was magic. Powerful. The applause at the end of the show was thunderous. Inside the real backstage after the show, dressers wiped tears from their faces as Gucci chief executive Marco Bizzarri snapped a photo with diversity activist Bethann Hardison and actress Dakota Johnson paid her compliments to the designer.

If only the clothes had been as moving. Michele said he has been amassing an archive of vintage children’s clothes from the 1930s, 40s and 70s, many of them English school clothes.

He translated their proportions, their doll-like perfection and sense of play into Wednesday’s collection, dressing models in red and black toggle coats shrunken into jackets with three-quarter sleeves, and grey flannel school dresses that looked as if they’d been long outgrown. There were some new elements here, for sure – but the vintage-eclectic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic that Michele brought to Gucci in 2015 has come to feel a bit tired, faded.

Gucci is the world’s third-largest luxury fashion brand after Louis Vuitton and Chanel, responsible for 80 per cent of parent company Kering’s profits. Its annual revenue is on track to surpass €10 billion (S$15 billion) for the first time this year, and Michele is under tremendous pressure to persuade customers to fill their closets with yet more Gucci loafers, blazers and belts.

Michele has sometimes pondered aloud to journalists the possibility of a future career outside of fashion but confessed Wednesday that he remains under its spell. “Somebody told me when I’m 45, I’ll do something else,” he said. “I’m 48 and I’ve not yet found something else.” One hopes he never will. But a little newness wouldn’t hurt.