Gucci “Hacking” Balenciaga Is a Fashion Experiment for the History Books

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Fashion collaborations are hardly new. From Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali to Yeezy and Vanessa Beecroft, creatives have been inspiring each other for decades. Yet, most of what we see nowadays is a high-low meld of ideas, like Supreme x Louis Vuitton or Rochas x H&M

Going further, you could make the argument that all of fashion design is a collaboration. No collection is born from a single mind and a single pair of hands, but are the results of teams of people working together on sketching, fitting, cutting, sewing, embellishing, beading, embroidering, and refining. From there, fashion shows are collaborations between the creative director, the artistic director, the casting agent, the musical director, the sound engineer, the lighting designer, the stage manager, and more. Hundreds of people and thousands of hours of effort go into making fashion collections. Yet, nothing like Gucci’s ‘Aria’ show has ever been done before. Ever.

Nothing like Gucci’s ‘Aria’ show has ever been done before. Ever.

Gucci is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year, and this auspicious occasion brings a desire to dare the unexpected. Alessandro Michele, in an effort to refute predictability, reached out to an unlikely corner of fashion for his latest collection: into the archives of Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga. It’s like LeBron James and Michael Jordan both being officially declared the G.O.A.T., like Friends and Seinfeld sharing a reunion series, or like Gordon Ramsay and Thomas Keller opening a restaurant together.

Don’t call it a collaboration, though. Instead, the brutalist silhouettes and Balenciaga logo-ed surfaces of the Gucci collection came straight from Michele’s “hack lab”, a.k.a., “A place where thefts and explosive reactions happen: a permanent generator of sparkles and unpredictable desires”. Even to the least fashion-informed person this is a brain-breaking idea. The reason for Michele’s reality-warping, klepto-magpie assemblage of references? As he told it to Tim Blanks in Business of Fashion, “I don’t want to be bored by myself.” 

Gucci Aria Collection
Photo: Courtesy of Gucci

First, the show was broadcast in a gorgeously produced video format across social media, inviting people into the ritzy world of the “Savoy”, an imaginary club where the glittering jet-set gathered to see and be seen in front of a metaphorical bank of paparazzi “cameras”. Popping flashbulbs created a backdrop for the catwalk, as an homage to Tom Ford’s Gucci stormed the runway. There was an iconic red velvet tuxedo (and versions in chartreuse and emerald green as well), and plenty of horsebit harnesses, riding whips, lacy lingerie, bustiers, fur-sleeved toppers, and “Savoy” printed riding caps to enhance the fetishistic underground appeal of Gucci’s more sensual era. 

Balenciaga references were mixed in throughout: there were knife boot-leggings covered in a Gucci print, a glittering silver suit bearing both the Gucci and Balenciaga logo, the Balenciaga ‘Hourglass’ bag upholstered with the Gucci logo, and Balenciaga chain necklaces. If this fashion spectacle wasn’t enough for you, Gucci also leaned into its pop-culture popularity, with a soundtrack/mashup of songs that have named dropped the brand — from Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” to Bhad Babie (yes, the ‘cash me outside, how bout da’ girl) and her “Gucci Flip-Flops” track.

Gucci “Hacking” Balenciaga Is a Fashion Experiment for the History Books

What was imminently clear was the Michele’s efforts not to bore himself actually resulted in one of his strongest collections ever. Strip away the hacked Balenciaga pieces and the Generation TikTok soundtrack, and look at the clothes and accessories solo. They’re directional, they’re accessible, they’re super wearable, and they’re gorgeous. Our eye snagged on molded skirt suits, a sequined turquoise crop top with massive football shoulders, a Gucci logo suit with shorts and matching boots, a chevron striped fur coat, psychedelic print suits, and other easy-to-wear pieces. Suiting was a big proposition for the ‘Aria’ collection, and the tailoring was fantastic. 

Look at the clothes and accessories solo. They’re directional, they’re accessible, they’re super wearable, and they’re gorgeous.

Also of note was Gucci’s casting, which featured a line-up of fresh new faces for the brand, which reinforced Michele’s anti-boredom commitment. As the runway portion slowed its drip, the cast walked down a corridor into the great outdoors, a sequence that Michele described as a passage to the “astral and magical”. Here, reality becomes even more distorted as the laws of physics lift, and models danced and floated. Coming out of the dark nightclub into the purifying light of the sun, the dream sequence finale was phenomenal, moving. Regardless of if you came for the rumored “collaboration” or not, this Gucci collection was one for the history books.

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