Alessandro Michele has one hell of a year and a half. It was just 18 months ago that Gucci's esteemed creative director catapulted from relative anonymity to industry celebrity with the unveiling of his first menswear collection for the brand — prepared in a mere five days. A week before, he had been planning to leave the company.
For the final session of British Vogue’s two-day Vogue Festival in London, Michele sat down with Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Shulman to discuss his career and his approach to fashion. His ensemble for the occasion was a lesson in that approach: he wore, as a base, a white T-shirt and rolled-up jeans, over which he piled on a embroidered green silk baseball jacket (custom, of course), striped athletic socks, low-heeled leather Mary Janes and a papal assortment of antique and contemporary rings, worn on nearly every finger.
Michele's obsession with vintage, the Renaissance and the Baroque is well-documented, apparent in his own appearance (besides the rings, he wears his hair in long, loose curls, meriting frequent comparisons to Jesus and Louis XIV), in the images he shares on Instagram and in the new aesthetic he has brought to Gucci, with its very Italianate mix of print and pattern and its free-spirited embrace of the eclectic and decorative. Michele says he loves the Renaissance's "opulence of decoration" and "this idea of everything is possible, no rules." Michele’s own home in Rome is full, per his description, of beautiful old paintings, pieces of fabric, jewels and shoes too small for his feet, "like an Alice in Wonderland." "I buy just to collect," he says of the many items he owns but will never wear.
And yet there is something entirely modern about Michele's approach — if it weren't, his clothes wouldn't feel so right for right now — consistent with the way he lives. Michele says he likes not knowing what is on his now-crazy schedule on any given day, which he believes allows him to live in the moment. Similarly, he believes his clothes look contemporary because he is able to embrace the unknown, weaving multiple threads of influence to create something new.
He is also — and this is a bit hard to believe given Gucci's emphasis on flashy accessories — trying to move away from the idea of selling product, but selling an idea that customers want to buy into. "In the last 10 years, the market has been full of products," he said. "Fashion is not about products. Fashion is about an amazing idea that you tried and you either fall in love with the idea and you can't resist to buy something. But you are buying the idea, you are not buying the object."
Michele has been praised for his gender-fluid approach to his men's and women's collections, which he has decided to show together going forward. "I am between, you are in-between, we are not one thing, we are always between two different worlds," he said of gender. His approach is less about finding a synthesis between masculine and feminine than a search for a kind of pure beauty. "I started from this point of view that it's more about the idea of beauty than gender," he said, adding, "Beauty is like if you fall in love with a beautiful man, it’s not easy… [You] try to put your hands on a beauty, it's really dangerous because… beauty has a kind of power."
Michele also detailed how he so unexpectedly got hired for the top role. When Gucci's freshly appointed CEO, Marco Bizzarri, came to his house for coffee in January 2015, he did not know it was a job interview. "He came to my apartment just to talk about the company, and I was leaving the company and I was completely open to the idea of talking to this man," Michele recalled. "We had this coffee for four hours, and we had a lot of fun honestly." A short trip to London later, and Bizzarri called him and asked, "Do you think it is possible to prepare a show [in one week]?" Michele said he was so surprised, standing backstage at the end of his first show, when his team urged him to go out to take a bow. "I was with my big beard, hair, it was crazy… I had [been wearing] the same jumper for three days, because I didn't care."
It's been nonstop ever since, but Michele says he's nowhere near on the verge of a creative burnout — that, in fact, he thrives under the constant pressure, that it gives him energy. He said that becoming a public figure has been less easy. "For a person that is usually in a room by himself with a pencil, with books and with music, it's pretty strange," he said. "I'm not interested in fame."
In two weeks, Michele will show Gucci's resort 2017 collection to a small audience at Westminster Abbey, where no fashion show has ever been held before. He thought the venue was a long shot when he first requested it. "I didn't imagine they would say yes," he said. “[But I thought] if I can dream, I want to dream."