Alessandro Michele Bridges Fashion, Philosophy in Autobiography

2 weeks ago 15

From philosophy to fashion, it’s only a short step for Alessandro Michele, as one is inextricably linked to the other.  

Both have shaped the life of the designer, newly appointed as creative director of Valentino. His life journey unfolds in “La Vita delle Forme: Filosofia del Reincanto [The Life of Shapes: Philosophy of Re-enchantment],” published by HarperCollins, which is being translated in English, French and German.

The cover of Michele’s book shows no indication that it is an autobiography. Nor is fashion mentioned. Surprising — as is the fact that there are no photographs or sketches throughout. Despite the designer’s love of colors and embellishments, the cover is in an “undecided” hue, with the title in red and a central, small black medieval-like symbol on it that’s vaguely reminiscent of a butterfly.

“I wanted to celebrate the word, naked in its complexity,” says Michele, deliberately staying away from using the word “fashion” in the title “to avoid giving the wrong message” to potential readers.

The cover of “La Vita delle Forme: Filosofia del Reincanto [The Life of Shapes: Philosophy of Re-enchantment],” by Alessandro Michele and Emanuele Coccia.

Another surprising element is that the book was written with philosopher Emanuele Coccia,  creating a dialogue between fashion and philosophy.

The idea of the book grew naturally with Coccia, says Michele, who exited Gucci’s top creative role in November 2022. “We spoke and recorded our thoughts” for about a year, mostly during the pandemic, and the book is “very intense and personal,” he admits, leading to a deep, almost cathartic reflection on his life. “I put thoughts and things in order, I discovered my priorities, it was like going to therapy.”

Michele and Coccia thought of a way “to keep the two voices distinct, employing italics for that of Emanuele, weaving the two on the page as in the Talmud or Bible manuscripts,” according to a joint preface note.

Alessandro Michele and Emanuele Coccia

Alessandro Michele and Emanuele Coccia Fabio Lovino; courtesy image

“It was fashion that brought me to philosophy,” writes Michele, reminiscing about his youth, training with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford. “However, at one point I decided to change paths. I had the impression that fashion was starting to subtract life” to clothes, seen as “stocked and pleated in stores rather than focusing on the intensity of life that each garment frees when it comes in contact with a body.”

He recalls that “trying to find a way to recover a deeper sense of my profession,” he “seriously” thought of turning to the world of cinema, which he believed could help “inject life into clothes.” He reveals that he was ready to quit Gucci when at the end of 2014 then-president and chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri asked him to design the men’s collection that would be paraded a week later for fall 2015. Michele had joined the Gucci design studio in 2002 following a stint as senior accessories designer at Fendi. He was appointed associate to Gucci’s then-creative director Frida Giannini in 2011, and in 2014 took on the additional responsibility of creative director of Richard Ginori, the porcelain brand acquired by Gucci in 2013.

Backstage at Gucci men’s RTW, fall 2015 Kuba Dabrowski

Philosophy helped him shape and explain his fashion vision and Michele pays tribute to his life partner Giovanni Attili, a professor at the prestigious La Sapienza University in Rome, for helping him understand it. Attili introduced Coccia to Michele.  Early on, the designer thought “philosophy was complicated, something that tangles up your brain, fit only for the enlightened few, but then I understood it was close to life.”

In fact, the press release for his first collection, written by Attili, was not about the clothes but about philosophy, which he contends “seemed the most fitting language,” and one that he would not give up from then on.

Michele never thought of writing a book before and underscores he did not really think of who would read it, as it was “not an editorial idea.”

The spotlight is again on Michele since he started a new phase of his career in April as creative director of Valentino, succeeding Pierpaolo Piccioli. He shies away from providing details of his new path, but says this is a “moment of reflection and absorption, of learning and great gestation,”  clearly blown away by the archival designs of founder Valentino Garavani and the expertise of the seamstresses and artisans of the famed couture house.  

Michele describes himself as “omnivorous” when it comes to choosing what to read, although he prefers history books and newspapers to novels.

“I am a bit of a nosey parker. I like to read about the life of others, I am curious and often read bits of several books at the same time, and I jot down thoughts on notebooks and scraps of paper; my bag is always filled with pens and pencils. Writing on paper helps me reflect on things,” he says.

In the book he admits to being a collector of objects. “I am an animist. An indefatigable adorer of all things. Books, statues, skirts, chairs, pants, cups, paintings: everything lives, independently from their shapes, size, purpose and importance. It is not difficult to perceive the breath of what surrounds us: when you pay attention, everything starts to speak. And it is for this reason that observing any object is like entering a library where things whisper, murmur, sing.”

He admits that “perhaps one of the most bizarre” collections he has is of vintage shoes, which have “invaded all my spaces,” and they allow him to dream of the lives of those who wore them.

He also collects ceramics, including porcelain pugs dating back as far as the 1700s — a passion that led him to Ginori “with great enthusiasm.” He defines this chapter of his career as “a great love story,” breathing new life into the collections with his decorative designs.

In fact, expressing his distaste for Le Corbusier’s modernism in architecture, Michele writes that he “refused” it in fashion, “that obsessive cleanup of shapes that never spoke to me. In that game of subtraction, life surrenders to aphasia. On the contrary, I always adored all decorativism meant not as sappy additives but as amplifiers of the clothes’ narrative. Each decoration expresses urgency and magnifies a story.”

Alessandro Michele’s Gucci Bamboo top-handle bag. Courtesy Photo

In this vein, he recalls how much Fendi’s Baguette bag meant to him. “In a moment when minimalism reigned, women adored this hyper-decorated object,” he writes, explaining that the bag was “an occasion of absolute creativity.” Arriving at Fendi when Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri, who worked on the Baguette with Silvia and Anna Fendi, had just left, he “covered the bag in a million ways, inspired by anything.” The Baguette made him “understand that fashion can interpret and embody any story […] through any shape […]. Precisely because of this, it is an infinite generator of attention and life,” he writes.

He describes a collection as “the ending of the ‘The Wizard of Oz’ — a machine that produces great illusions,” anticipating an unknown future. For this reason, he contends, “it must take risks, dare to make mistakes.” A mistake is “always the name we give to the future that we have not recognized yet. And it is for this reason that my collections are voluntarily and clearly not finished. Keeping a door open means to write a book that continues within the reader. Fashion opens a conversation that continues within the person wearing the garment.”

The topic of freedom is a recurring one in the book as he says he never wanted to give up on being himself. “The most difficult thing is to be how you are when others try to manipulate you into being different. Becoming who you are is trying.”

Milan

Catherine de’ Medici was an inspiration for Alessandro Michele’s Gucci fall 2016 collection. Kuba Dabrowski

He recalls he was 43 in 2015 when Bizzarri offered him the top post at Gucci. He believed he would be fired after that first show, when he followed his instincts and paraded ruffled shirts on men with flowers in their hair. “I wasn’t thinking of the career, I am what I am and I just did what I thought was natural. I just wanted to talk about beauty. ”

He speaks of his surprise as people started talking about gender fluidity. “I had never heard of this term before, I just work looking at what I see around me, and at the time it seemed perfectly normal to me.”

“I don’t invent anything, I observe,” he writes in the book, saying that “to imagine a garment means imagining a person, building characters of a diverse universe.”

He reveals that as a child he braided his father’s hair, who showed him “the simple way to be free even at 60 with braided hair,” and reminisces about the walks with him outdoors in nature, “when he invited me to be quiet and listen to the wind blowing, which seemed to be the closest thing to God.” He also writes and speaks fondly of his mother and aunt, who were twins, and which led to the Twinsburg collection, his last for Gucci. “They taught me of non-exclusive love.”

Additional details on Twinsburg and his other collections for Gucci, from the spring 2022 lineup paraded in Hollywood to Aria, marking the brand’s centenary, and the Cosmogonie cruise 2023 show in Apulia conclude the book.

Gucci RTW Spring 2023

Gucci RTW spring 2023, the Twinsburg collection. Giovanni Giannoni/WWD
Read Entire Article