Granny’s trinkets, a cat T-shirt and a hat stolen from the dressing-up box? Gucci’s Alessandro Michele is breaking every rule going. Stylist looks at fashion’s emperor of eclectic…
Words: Tamsin Blanchard
Loud. Clashing. Eccentric. Not words you’d usually consider as compliments on your look – until now. Add to that list brash, outrageous and ‘flamboyant granny’ and congratulations! You’ve nailed the look of the moment: bad taste.
The key is to disregard everything you’ve come to understand about being elegant, conventional or tasteful and throw yourself head first in to the maximal, technicolour world of bad taste. You know that old adage about removing one item before you leave the house? Scratch that. Instead, think drunken tumble through a fancy-dress box – piling on anything and everything, from old and new, good and bad, gothic and street, without even a plain T-shirt or neutral shoe to break the chaos. Throw an oversized logo hoodie over a lace-trimmed floral maxi dress, add lurid green tights, team with embroidered platform heels, clip on a pair of lobe-shattering pearl-and-diamanté earrings then pop a large silk bow on your head. Quick check in the mirror – yes, you’re good to go.
Of course, if you or I had conjured up this look for a regular Monday in the office, it would be likely to get colleagues checking our temperature. But this cartoon escape from the conventions of tasteful dressing comes from none other than Gucci’s creative director (and designer of the moment) Alessandro Michele, who took the top spot at Gucci in January 2015 and has systematically destroyed the rule book of what you can and can’t wear ever since, making just about anything possible. And with his flowing brunette hair, moustache and beard, passion for floral wallpaper style suits and uncanny ability to make a socks-and- sandals combination look cool, perhaps the signs were there all along...
“Fashion is not about product, it’s about an amazing idea that you try to understand,” he has said. “It’s about something that you fall in love with and you can’t resist buying. I think the market is really ready for something different. Fashion is about clothes and colours – it’s not serious; I’m not serious. I try to have fun always.”
For Gucci’s owners Kering, hiring Michele was a calculated risk. Although not a big name, he knew the world of Gucci inside out. Hired by Gucci in 2002 by Tom Ford and put in charge of leather goods, when the house’s designer Frida Giannini left, the 44-year-old was given a golden opportunity to shake up one of the most famous houses in fashion. With a vision that could not have been more different than that of his predecessor (whose slick chicness perfectly chimed with Gucci’s 94-year-old jet-set sexy aesthetic), Michele proceeded to make fashion’s eccentrics his muse. From his first collection of gender-fluid pussy-bows and geeky specs, it was clear a new era of the label had been born.
And while to many, Gucci’s turbans, cat T-shirts and granny trinkets (yes, worn at the same time) sound like the kind of outfit you’d point at in the street, they have in fact become way more than just a talking point. Despite the brand previously relying on good old-fashioned Italian sex appeal to sell its clothes and accessories, Michele’s vintage mash-ups have had us reaching for our credit cards like never before. Sales at Gucci rose by 17% in the third quarter of 2016.
“There aren’t any fashion rules these days, not least because the newly global nature of luxury has made it impossible to enact any (the exigencies of dressing in Seoul are very different to those of London, for example),” says Anna Murphy, fashion director at The Times. “Gucci’s gloriously anything-goes fandango of colour, embellishment and – above all else – fun chimes brilliantly with this new fashion lawlessness... which means, of course, that it sells brilliantly too!”
Of course, the debate over what is actually good or bad taste has been raging for centuries. Fashion historian Judith Watt recalls that in 1879, Mary Eliza Haweis wrote in The Art Of Dress: “Taste [...] is the faculty of distinguishing between the agreeable and the disagreeable; its function is to arrange and display what gives agreeable impressions [and] suppress what gives disagreeable ones.” Still, that has never meant looking bland and generic. As Haweis primly wrote: “English women [need] to think more for themselves and individualise their daily garb as a part of their individual character.” And that, for Watt, is the key to being in possession of good taste. “Bad taste is when labels disguise individuality under a uniform,” she says, adding that neither should eclecticism be confused with bad taste. “Gucci is intensely decorative. It’s ironic, it’s kitsch. What Gucci is doing right now is manufacturing a certain quirkiness.”
The British fashion designer Louise Gray – known for her own splicing and dicing of references – agrees. “People who describe their taste as impeccable I find usually have none,” she tweeted. For her, taste is all in the eye of the beholder. “Some people think something is in bad taste if it’s gaudy or ugly for them or outside their world. Then it becomes interesting to wear it and feel like you’re entering a different space.”
But perhaps the biggest appeal of Michele’s new ‘so ugly it’s great’ aesthetic is that it has a sense of humour. You need to have your tongue and cheek in close proximity to get away with wearing a bright yellow Ronald McDonald mini dress with a red ruffled bib and a big blue bow. It’s fantastically optimistic and – once you’ve immersed yourself in the aesthetic for a while – really quite glamorous in its own glittery bubble. And in these uncertain economic and political times, don’t we all need a bit of irreverence and fantasy in our lives?
“There’s definitely been a mood of women wanting to dress up and be more flamboyant,’ agrees Natalie Kingham, buying director at matchesfashion.com, who says her customers can’t get enough of Gucci’s Marmont loafers with their round-square toe, block heel, fringing and GG plaque. “Alessandro’s clashing prints and patterns, bold suiting and accessories have appealed to the magpie in us all; women who are always brave in their style choices.”
Kingham cites Balenciaga, Givenchy, Proenza Schouler and Marques Almeida as also appealing to the new Gucci girl, who she calls the ‘fashion pioneer’. “Pretty much anything goes for her, and so we’re increasingly focusing on how our customers might want to style and put together specific looks as much as the trends,” she says.
And that’s essentially what the new maximalist look (to give it its kindest name) offers. The opportunity to choose something you truly love, regardless of trends, that appeals to your own sense of style, whether it’s a really great tailored jacket or a gold sequin- covered dickie bow. It’s almost a game: think of the most horrible thing you can imagine – your guiltiest pleasure – then wear it with a strong sense of irony. It might be the way Vetements has reintroduced the Juicy Couture velour trackie top or how Christopher Kane is proposing Crocs for summer. “I still find it most interesting to pick and choose what you like and figure out your own codes of conduct within what’s appropriate or not for you,” says Gray. “The most joy [comes in] wearing what you want your own damn way!”
So for the moment at least, we’ll revel in the flounciness of the bows, the swish of the earrings, the frilliness of the socks, the glitter of the shoes, and the craziness of not holding back. It’s time to raid the dressing-up box, break all the rules, wear what you want, how you want. Gucci’s new incarnation has made all taste good taste. It’s one big party, and everyone’s invited.
10 ways to ace (good) bad taste
Turns out being a fashion pioneer couldn’t be simpler...
1. Check out your new go-to brands – Sue Ryder, Marie Curie and Oxfam, and raid the rails for pussybow blouses, disorienting prints and Lurex hot pants. Second-hand shopping guarantees unique pieces that no-one else will have.
2. The reason God gave you 10 fingers (well, eight and two thumbs) was so you could show off your entire ring collection at once. And then add your mother’s. Look for tigers, insects, pearls – extra points if you have them all on one ring.
3. Big logos are your friend. It doesn’t have to be Gucci, any famous name will do. Don’t leave home without one.
4. Dig deep in the bargain bin of your local fabric shop. Look for gold brocades and printed silks and whip them into draped sashes or turbans – great for bad hair days.
5. Embroider your own jeans (take a tutorial on YouTube) or iron on some patches (Hand & Lock will be customising your clothes at Topshop Oxford Circus until 28 February, handembroidery.com). Load up on the snakes, Union Jacks and cat emblems – there’s no such thing as a clash.
6. Raid your granny’s jewellery box for genuine vintage gems. Precious or faux, it doesn’t matter, just clip on the biggest, most OTT thing you can find.
7. Ever noticed how many second hand scarves there are in the world? Handy, as you’ll need a different pop of print for every day of the week.
9. Embrace unconventional colour palettes. Try lilac and mildew green, or powdery blue with zesty orange. Ease yourself in with an accessory or two before building up to the full look.
10. Do all of the above, and then do it all again. Worried it’s too much? You’re probably not wearing enough.
Additional Words: Caroline Leaper
Photography: Rex, Getty