Identity is practically a trigger word in today’s fraught cultural climate. Identity politics, gender identity – these topics are hotly debated at round tables across the news sphere, panned in the comments section, and criticized or praised depending on which side of the argument you’re on.
The more connected we become, the more we’ve come to realize that identity cannot be neatly defined. Humans are incredibly complex creatures who can’t be so easily labeled by their outward appearance, inward thoughts and beliefs, or even browser history. Rather, our identity is based on a complicated algorithm that synthesizes all of it, while constantly being added to by whom we meet and what we experience.
Alessandro Michele, the philosopher-king of Gucci, is fascinated by identity — what makes us who we are. He’s explored dilemmas of identity in several previous shows, supplying sartorial tools of self-exploration in the post-human world. For Fall/Winter 2019, he adds a new chapter to his philosophical treatise, by employing masks as a way to reflect the prisms of our personalities. “The mask, in fact, lets us show ourselves as we please and play our acting role as we think is best,” Gucci’s show notes argue. “It’s the possibility to choose how to exercise our freedom to show ourselves through a powerful filter that constantly selects what we want to share about us and what we want to conceal instead.”
But, wait, isn’t this a fashion show? Isn’t fashion just a bunch of fluff worn by empty-headed people who crave status? Not in Michele’s world. Everything he does is embedded with greater meaning.
One gets the sense that Michele views humanity as a real horrorshow, at least in this day and age, where the depravities of our kind are constantly scrolled across the ticker tape of 24-hour news broadcasts. Daily shootings in America, genocide in Syria, a refugee crisis in Rohingya, a far right movement sweeping Europe – there is a lot to be terrified about. Perhaps, in Gucci’s case, the mask – which was either planted with massive spikes or resembled the hockey mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween franchise – is an added layer of protection, a chance to filter out the fear by becoming the feared.
Perhaps, in Gucci’s case, the mask is an added layer of protection, a chance to filter out the fear by becoming the feared.
Masks aside, the clothes were irrepressibly “Gucci”, decorated with references to both the Edwardian and Victorian era by way of massive ruffs and bishop’s sleeves, as well as a toss to the Edo period of Japan, when samurai wore massive armored pieces with sudos (or thick rectangular tiles). Sudos were reimagined by Gucci in tiered layers, impressively jutting off the shoulders and chest, adding unique dimension to the silhouette.
If you were to peel back the excessive styling, the ugly-pretty aesthetic, the piled-on accessories, and the scary-scary masks, this was really a collection built on pretty party frocks, smart suits, and knitwear. Yes, the glitzy dresses might have been paired with lace tights, knee pads, argyle socks, and platform shoes in a single look, but on their own they were quite appealing. One really memorable dress came in a flapper style and was made from horizontal columns of brocade, embellished chiffon, and sequins. Simply lovely. Suits were three-piece and masculine, with trousers tightly tapered right at the bottom. Knits either ballooned at the sleeve or featured cool patterns.
Despite the face-obscuring nature of Michele’s masks and hats, each look was a collage of clearly identifiable personalities. Whoever you want to be, or want people to think you are, Gucci is where playing dress-up is more than an exercise in banality – it’s an act of identity politics.