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Gucci unmasks a harder, more masculine collection
Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele says the blackface controversy has had a deep impact on the company and provided a learning experience for everyone.

  Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele says the blackface controversy has had a deep impact on the company and provided a learning experience for everyone.
Michele, speaking to reporters back stage after Gucci opened Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday, said the lessons were not linked to creativity but to how the company operates. Gucci announced it would hire directors for diversity and take other measures after facing a backlash for a balaclava sweater that evoked blackface.
Michele said he took full responsibility for the misstep. He said after experiencing the “displeasure” of the controversy, “I hold on to the beauty of having learned. I learned a lot. This remains. It is not just a moment of emotion. I think it deeply affected the work of the company.”
Alessandro Michele’s latest collection for Gucci was shown under unrelenting, even blinding, strobe lights that the designer said in some way evoked the intensity of everyday life. A religious hymn played as the models walked deliberately, almost robotically.
Michele chose a mask as the metaphor for the collection, noting that “clothing is our mask, which both shows and hides.”
The show invitation was glued inside a paper-mache mask of Hermaphrodite, a homage to his exploration of genderless dressing. “The ancient world sang about the marvels of being between two sexes. Today it is one of the more difficult masks to wear, but being a hybrid is a blessing,” Michele said.
Still, the combined menswear and womenswear collection had a tougher, more masculine edge, shrinking ever so slightly from the designer’s gender-bending musings of past seasons. It was at its heart the exploration of the suit, with broad shoulders and unfinished edges and a stronger silhouette.
The looks also combined a sense of protection and also aggression with spiky accents on the looks and on belts worn cross body. An elaborate ruffle and lace collar peaked out of an overcoat, worn with baggy trousers. Boyish striped sweaters tucked into patterned jeans.
For women there were pretty silken shirts with pleated peplums over straight skirts. A gray jacket featured three concentric rounded collars, like shawls, worn with trouser pants.
Michele worked at Fendi as a young designer under Karl Lagerfeld. A day after the design legend’s death, Michele recalled a man with the spirit of Peter Pan.
Michele said Lagerfeld called him “DJ” for his musical choices and insisted that the music be played at full blast.
“I loved him a lot. I am deeply sorry and not fully aware of the fact that he is no longer here. I have the impression that it is only news in the newspapers,” Michele said.
Milan-based Austrian designer Arthur Arbesser has little chance of cultural missteps in his collections. His inspiration is from the world around him — from the architecture outside his Milan studio, to the checkerboard tiles of his bathroom to the durable Loden fabrics of his native Austria.
“I don’t even pretend to try to go too far. I just go where I am, and what I am surrounded with, and straightforward, honest collection, basically,” Arbesser said backstage.
The color palette of the collection included muted checks in mango, lime and lavender, against larger contrasts of orange against dark blue. The contrasts playing well against the color-dotted rock-climbing wall backdrops.
The collection effused an urban modernity. Handkerchief skirts were worn with print blouses inspired by an abacus. Ribbed knitwear featured ruffle-y edges down the sleeves and long the hems. T-shirt dresses were overlaid with bodices and worn over stretchy jersey wear. A long Loden dress flowed monastically. Jackets belted over harlequin patterned tops and pleated business skirts.
“Literally, some of the things are my stuff. I mean this is my old tuxedo jacket when I was 18, and this is my boy scout pants from when I was a teenager. We just redid them in very feminine fabrics, and all the sudden they were working,” Arbesser said.
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