There was a brief sense of confusion entering the show space for Gucci's Fall 2020 runway: Instead of a set, showgoers ended up in the backstage area, typically reserved for models, dressers, hair and makeup artists and maybe a few beauty editors. Here were long rows of mirrors, set up with all kinds of products, at which various technicians fiddled with enrobed models, working on the beauty looks that were set to debut on the catwalk.
It was all part of Alessandro Michele's plan to turn the typically unseen work of a fashion show into the spectacle itself. "I have always considered the fashion show as an event bursting with enchantment," began his welcome notes. "A liturgical action that suspends the ordinary, loading it with an excess of intensity. A procession of epiphanies and expanded thoughts that settle into a different partition of the sensible."
"An unrepeatable ritual" — that's what Michele calls his fashion shows, unforgettable spectacles which elevate his work to a near-sublime level, as was the case at Wednesday's presentation. He transformed the behind-the-scenes labors of a fashion show into a kind of theatre-in-the-round, leading his models to a curtained-off stage at the center of the room. When the drapes fell, they revealed all the staging of a runway, from the dressers and racks of clothing to the screens set up to show those backstage what was happening on the runway, with Michele orchestrating it all. But he was hardly the center of attention: Gucci employees, clothed in uniforms, were at the core of the action. Indeed, as someone with a decade-plus of near-anonymous experience in Gucci's design studio, Michele understands the value of the hands which make up the bulk of labor behind his creations at the Italian house.
"May the miracle of skillful hands and holding breath come out of the shadows," wrote Michele. "May the collective intelligence which takes care of gestation be visible, as shivers rage on. May that wild and crazy hive that I made a home have a throne."
That "wild and crazy hive" helped put together the Fall 2020 collection, which included a broad depth of looks which revealed themselves as models were dressed, stepping from the shadows into the spotlight of the rotating stage one by one. There were all the signatures Michele has stamped onto Gucci: Renaissance shapes, like panier skirts and ruffled, frosted-cake tiers; '60s mod miniskirts and toggle coats; natty plaids and matching suiting for all genders; tinges of Catholicism in giant cross necklaces and buttoned-up coats; S&M harnesses and ripped tights; and styled-to-the-hilt maximalism.
At the end, all the models filed off stage and the Gucci staff took their place in the spotlight, a lovely nod to the work they do year-round to make these magical moments happen, with Michele skipping his standard end-of-show bow. It continues to be impressive that he still finds ways to make the brand — and by extension, his look — feel fresh despite not straying too far from his particular aesthetic. (One does long for more body diversity at a Gucci show, which is packed with plenty of models who toe, or even cross, the line of too-thinness; it's the one area in which Michele shows a strict adherence to the old way of doing things, an outdated note in his otherwise forward-thinking work.)
It was another unforgettable Gucci show in the books, done only the way Michele can: deeply personal and fashion-forward, while still being commercial and sellable.