Before Alessandro Michele got the top job at Gucci in 2015, fashion designers paid lip service to individuality whilst turning models on their catwalks into clones of one another: same height, same make-up, same wigs, same parting, same walk… It seemed a strange strategy to spend tens of thousands on famous models and render them invisible. But what mattered was the hegemony of the brand.
Michele changed all that, casting the tall, the short, the voluptuous, the androgynous, the conventionally beautiful and the quirky and dressing them in outfits that articulated their personalities. It’s an approach that’s made Gucci one of the most followed, copied and bought brands on the planet by an extraordinarily diverse group of customers.
But this time he went deeper. With the help of 68 sets of identical twins he recruited after putting the word out at a twin convention held in, appropriately, Twinsburg in Ohio, he dug deep into the metaphysics of individuality to explore the differences that can be nurtured internally even when you ostensibly look the same as everyone else.
“I’ve always been fascinated by how different the same outfit can look on different people,” Michele said backstage. “You can change one tiny thing, or a gesture, and the whole look changes”.
The cast of twins only became apparent towards the end, when the intimate space opened to reveal that what had seemed like an unusually small Gucci show had been replicated on the other side of a sliding wall. For the first half, the twins had walked separately down two different catwalks for two audiences who didn’t know about the existence of the other. It was only for the finale, when the wall opened, that each pair of twins came down the catwalk together, hand in hand.
It was an extraordinary moment that packed more of an emotional, thought provoking punch than many art installations I’ve seen, perhaps because (most unusually for a catwalk event), it spoke sincerely about love. Michele, it transpires, was brought up by twin sisters who dressed and combed their hair in the same way and were so close and united in their mothering of him “that it wasn’t even important to know which of them gave birth of me”.
The clothes almost felt beside the point and yet they were stronger than ever. Michele’s tailoring becomes more elegant with every season, and the eclectic extravagance of his ruffles, lames, velvets, bows, distinctive monogrammed bags (festooned with fluffy gremlins) and snake printed boots, offer something for just about everyone. Just as importantly, from the nerdy teens who want the sandals and the T-shirts to the Princess of Wales, who’s partial to its silky pussy bow blouses, to the wealthy grandmas who covet those tweed jackets, Gucci customers feel an affectionate connection to a house that encourages them to wear it all their own way.