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Don't Call Gucci's Work With Balenciaga a 'Collaboration'

The brand refers to it as a "hacking" of Demna Gvasalia's designs by Alessandro Michele.
A look from Gucci's Aria collection. Photo: Greg Avenel/Courtesy of Gucci

A look from Gucci's Aria collection. Photo: Greg Avenel/Courtesy of Gucci

Nothing gets the fashion world buzzing quite like a good melding of the minds — after all, one of the biggest stories in the industry over the past year has been the co-creative directorship of Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada. Plus, the high-low mixing of brands is old hat by now, going back over two decades at retailers like Target and H&M. But a combination of two luxury houses? Now that's nearly unheard of.

That's why fashion insiders and fans alike are buzzing over the Gucci x Balenciaga pieces unveiled during the former's Aria fashion show, directed by Floria Sigismondi, on Thursday morning. Just don't call it a "collaboration" — or a capsule, for that matter. Per a press release from Gucci, creative director Alessandro Michele considers it a part of his "hacking lab," in which he has "plundered the nonconformist rigour of Demna Gvasalia." It's worth noting that both are owned by Kering and are arguably two of the conglomerate's brightest gems, which in a way makes it surprising this hasn't happened sooner. 

For Michele, "hacking" means taking iconic Gvasalia-era Balenciaga designs and throwing them in a blender with Gucci signatures. There's bell-shaped suiting rendered in Gucci's brown-and-black color scheme, Gucci's name appearing alongside Balenciaga's in its blocky font; skin-tight sock boots with sharp toes done up in Gucci's floral print; Balenciaga's Hourglass bag covered in Gucci's double-G logo. 

So, do two great tastes taste great together? Eh. I'm not convinced. 

It's certainly an interesting experiment in branding (or in mega-corporate luxury), but as far as actual design goes, it feels like a further flattening of a fashion landscape which could use more excitement than a cross-branded "hacking," like this provides. It would have been much more fascinating to try a true collaboration between the two — imagine a joint Balenciaga/Gucci collection! — or even letting each other take over the other's house for a season. These pieces just feel destined to be snapped up by people hunting for Instagram likes or street style attention, only to be sent off to The RealReal after a wear or two.

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To me, there were more interesting things happening with Michele's own designs for the Aria collection. This year marks Gucci's 100th anniversary, which sent him looking back through the house's history. (Actually, in Michele speak: "In my work, I caress the roots of the past to create unexpected inflorescences, carving the matter through grafting and pruning. I appeal to such ability to reinhabit what has already been given. And to the blending, the transitions, the fractures, the concatenations. To escape the reactionary cages of purity, I pursue a poetics of the illegitimate.") He played with bits and pieces of that in his designs — like with riding helmets and boots as a nod towards Gucci's roots as an equestrian brand ("transfiguring it into a fetish cosmogony," per the designer) and lush velvet suiting in the style of Tom Ford, the most legendary of Gucci designers. Michele is looking forward to partying again, which meant plenty of sparkle and shine sprinkled across midi skirts and outerwear. 

And while this was all still full of Gucci-isms — there were cropped leather harnesses— it felt like a toned-back affair for Michele. Looks were less busy than they have been in collections past, a hat-tip towards the commercial needs that keep the brand viable. The emphasis on suiting wasn't just a clever call-back to one of the most well-known periods for the brand: It was also a play for a less courageous customer who might love the Gucci look, made popular by stars like Harry Styles and St. Vincent, but who'd like something a bit tamer to wear to the office. 

In other words, Michele has plenty of interesting ideas to pull from at home. If he's looking to charge his designs with more excitement, I think there are better angles he can try — like improving the body diversity represented in his vision of Gucci, for starters.

See the complete Gucci Aria collection in the gallery below:

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