Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection celebrates 100 years of Gucci

Courtesy of Rhododendrites via Wikimedia Commons.

For their 100th anniversary, Gucci did what no other luxury fashion brand has done before—collaborate with their competition, Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga. This merger is perhaps the most covered and publicized aspect of this collection, but there are so many other interesting details that have gone overlooked. One of these is the dissolution of the menswear and womenswear categories to include both in one massive 94-look show. They’ve also released a 15-minute short film showcasing all of these looks, with a soundtrack that compiles songs that explicitly mention Gucci, such as Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang,” Rick Ross’ “Green Gucci Suit” and Die Antwoord’s “Gucci Coochie.” The production budget must have been insanely high, with massive set design, plenty of CGI, dozens of camera angles and a finale consisting of albino animals roaming the garden of Eden. I like to think Gucci took my advice from my defense of logos in their extremely over-the-top, flamboyant presentation that fully displays their self-awareness about the cultural capital surrounding their brand. They’ve curated a vast selection of Gucci iconography over the past hundred years and collapsed them onto the most iconic stage imaginable. While it is somewhat tacky, it is also an impressive fashion show. 

Most details are culled from the brand’s equestrian history, their iconic red and green stripes coming from the pattern on saddle belts. Horse bit clasps appear not just on their famous loafers, but on purses, leather vests and jewelry. The headwear replicates vintage horse-riding helmets with chin straps, emblazoned with “Savoy Club,” a reference to where founder Guccio Gucci worked in his youth. Whips, jodhpurs, boots, jackets and handbags are all stylized around the English tradition of riding gear, subverted in fetishistic and impractical ways. It’s a little weird, but far too many fashion houses working parallel to Gucci often don’t get weird enough. 

This is where Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele moves past the historical into the contemporary. The runway is an empty white hallway lined with flashing cameras, functioning doubly as a stand-in for a nonexistent crowd and as another callback to how long Gucci has been around, with Kodak’s early 20th century “Brownie” model serving as the oldest example. After walking, the models wait in a red room before being let out into a tropical paradise. The sterility of the hallway, followed by the models leaning in for kissing, dancing and  huggingclearly shows an awareness of how cyclical Gucci’s hundred years have been⁠—the Spanish flu had only ended a year before Gucci was founded. 

Taking cues from Gvasalia, the shoulders on some of the jackets are exaggerated and boxy, or curve upwards ever so slightly. Gvasalia’s influence is mostly subtle, showing itself in the occasional black plastic midi skirt, wraparound long coat and pops of Lynchian blue. I believe Michele might also be borrowing from Hedi Slimane’s Celine Spring Summer 2021, a collection rife with points of inspiration borrowed from TikTok, particularly with regards to logoed curb chains and bulbous eyewear. Most of the other accessories are either very classic or fall into the trend of intervening a monogram with colorful, clashing motifs⁠—but then appears the pièce de résistance, a bedazzled anatomical heart clutch, in both silver and gold. These moments of avant-garde design poking through an otherwise commercial aesthetic give the rest of the show a bit of weight. 

From the CFO’s point of view, the true centerpiece is not the heart clutch, but the garments with the names of two industry giants stamped all over. What does this intertextual union mean? Well, for one, it’s not as surprising as Supreme and Louis Vuitton’s collaboration a few years back. But maybe this completes the cycle of the streetwear-ification of haute couture, just like when Supreme and Bape collaborated twenty years ago. One of the coats is, aside from the structured shoulders, just a coat. Without the logos it would almost look like Inspector Clouseau’s. What it gains from having “Gucci” and “Balenciaga” printed all over is conflicting. 

Gucci started as a maker of quality leather handbags and nothing more; Cristóbal Balenciaga was an important designer who innovated the use of fabrics, tightened and triangulated the female silhouette and resisted the bourgeois regulations of the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture parisienne (the Parisian syndicate that decided what was and what wasn’t true haute couture). This core is reflected in what they produce nowadays. Gvasalia founded the highly controversial and conceptual Vetements. For Balenciaga, he designed the magnificent Winter 2020 show, which featured a runway that was a flooded platform in the middle of the stadium, clothes that looked like Sith Lord garb, a hardcore electronic soundtrack and a climax punctuated by the projection of fiery hell onto the ceiling. The still water reflected the red and orange tones, setting the models aflame and raising questions about our dying earth. Michele, well, Michele is having fun making variations on the same leather goods for rich teenagers. As I’ve said before, logo-centric lines have a purpose and their own value, but for Gucci, there is little to no distinction between runway art and the stuff you sell to keep the house afloat. Balenciaga may sell plenty of branded T-shirts, but they validate themselves by producing genuinely jaw-dropping shows. If a logo’s value is in its heritage, then Gucci’s doesn’t mean much, and Balenciaga’s does.

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