22-Aug, 04:04

07:30, February 23 232 0

2017-02-23 07:30:18
Fashion Review: Gucci’s All-Inclusive Fancy Dress Fandango

This time, there was no gala opening lunch hosted by the prime minister so all of Italy’s luxury head honchos could rub elbows over pappardelle and listen to powerful state officials sing their praises.

Matteo Renzi, briefly the first Italian head of government to ever so overtly embrace the local fashion industry (and now it seems, maybe the last), stepped down in December. He was replaced by Paolo Gentiloni, who chose not to make the trip north from Rome to Milan for the fall fashion shows — maybe because he was busy, maybe because he didn’t want to be associated with the kind of elitism they represent.

That’s usually the issue. Though in point of fact, as Milan Fashion Week got underway, the biggest trend on the runways was inclusion.

It started with Gucci, where Alessandro Michele has made something of a signature out of embracing everything and the kitchen sink.

Despite the fact that this was the first show in Gucci’s new 377,000-square-feet global headquarters; despite the fact it took place in a cavernous purple space where a tubular plexiglass space pod/catwalk encircled a purple pyramid topped by a rooster weather vane; and despite the fact that it was also the brand’s first official combined men’s and women’s show, this season was actually no different. If anything, it simply upped the ante.

Not because of the two genders so much — Mr. Michele’s aesthetic is equal opportunity rococo — but because the combined show allowed for even more exits: 120 in total. He christened the show “The Alchemist’s Garden” and quoted three philosophers in the show notes by way of explanation (sample: “a unity that shelters inside a ‘parliament of selves’”). But what that boiled down to was even more characters conjured up from the rummage bin of history. Name one, they were in there!

Genghis Khan? He wore a floor-sweeping ornate chinoiserie bathrobe, with stripy scarf and knit bobble hat. Punk? Ripped denim shorts over a crystal bodysuit and white muscle T. Queen Elizabeth II? A neat mid-calf baby-blue shift with little white collar and allover crystal embroideries. The Victorian operagoer? A black velvet skirt under a top with ornately fluted velvet-trimmed sleeves. The Gypsy? She wore a dress of 14 colors, sequined and bedazzling, with a rose at the waist.

Then there were bees and flared trouser suits in Gucci stripes and parasols and flowers upon flowers and the guy in the blue onesie with tiger faces printed all over it and a circle inexplicably cut out of the front to reveal his bare chest. (Not sure who he was supposed to be.) Someone carried a giant arrow.

Mr. Michele’s shows are like a fabulous fancy dress party where everyone can come, and they do. This has propelled the brand to booming sales and a celebrity fan base, but there’s no escaping the fact that it still looks like costume. (This is most obvious when it’s taken out of Mr. Michele’s dreamscape context; see, for example, celebrities wearing Gucci on the red carpet.)

Though it is true that fashion is the outfit we all wear for the stage set of our lives, Mr. Michele takes that to a decorative extreme. Yet the most intriguing part of the show was also the least theatrical: graffiti scrawled on Gucci logo T-shirts (including a yellow one Mr. Michele wore to take his bow) by the young artist Coco Capitán that read “Common sense is not that common,” “I want to go back to believing a story,” and “What are we going to do with all this future?”

Here’s an idea: more in that vein. They gave the fantasy a much-needed relevance. The imperative to encompass both escapism and the issues of the current day can be an awkward balance to strike. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

So Alberta Ferretti featured an ode to Italian pride and dressing in Venice via postcard-ready Grand Canal chiffons, blue-and-white-striped gondolier astrakhans, gold lion embroideries and carnival-worthy capes in crushed velvet — as well as the hijab-clad model Halima Aden. At MaxMara, models of many vintages (including, again, Ms. Aden) showcased understated tone-on-tone combinations of swish trouser suits, generous overcoats and cushy knits. Brunello Cucinelli said he was thinking about an “urban explorer” and added toughened-up techno-vests and rucksack belts to his luxe gentlewoman-farmer mix of cashmeres, mohair, metallics and tweed.

And Fausto Puglisi opened with a short film titled “Southern Vertigo” staring the actress Cristina Donadio as an all-powerful matriarch with a lived-in face, who strips down amid the marbles of the Naples National Archaeological Museum only to be regarbed in ornate brocade for a (papal?) investiture. And he framed it all with the quote, “We are not at all like you.”

Meaning, it turned out, not that Mr. Puglisi’s women were different from other women, but that, “I was thinking about the abuse of women in this moment, after the American election, and people who believe women to be an object,” the designer said. Meaning that the collection was his outreach and empowerment statement.

It’s a laudable sentiment, though to a certain extent empowering women is what fashion is supposed to do at all times, no matter who is in charge. The problem was that the holy dominatrix combinations of velvet, micro-minis, slits, leather, rhinestones and feathers (plus the occasional bourgeois suit jacket) on the runway was a questionable way to express it.

Still, kitschy as most of it appeared, there’s no question he went all in.