Gucci Has a Rave in a Cemetery

Posted June 1, 2018 8:43 p.m. EDT

The omnivorous imagination of Alessandro Michele continues its march over the countryside, redesigning the hills and furrows of the modern wardrobe in the brand’s current magpie image.

Its latest target: the Alyscamps in Arles, the onetime Roman necropolis-turned-Christian-cemetery-turned-UNESCO World Heritage site. On Wednesday it became the site of the Gucci 2019 cruise show, which is itself the second stage of a series of Gucci-in-France events (following the February ad campaign and preceding a September ready-to-wear show in Paris.)

“Alyscamps is a Roman cemetery, but it’s also not a cemetery, it was a promenade, it became a walk in 1700s; it is hybridized, it does not look like a cemetery because it is and it isn’t. I like things that seem like something but are not,” Michele said on Twitter to stoke preshow anticipation (though the rabid fan base of the front row guest Kai, the actor and K-pop superstar, seemed to be doing that just fine).

It’s “a place where everyone can be someone else, widows and kids playing rock stars, ladies who are not ladies,” Michele said in another post. Later he compared it to a rave in a cemetery. It was not a bad description.

The 400 guests perched on mirrored cubes amid the great stone ruins to watch the show after nightfall, the runway strafed by fire and lit by the flickering of iron candelabras with elaborate scrollwork. The models emerged from a fog-filled door in Michele’s now-signature grab bag of muchness, walking to the rising strains of a requiem.

There were sweeping Victorian ruffles and bourgeois tweed lunching suits; granny glasses and piles of Elizabethan curls; ruffles and crosses and disco zebra stripes and sequins and floral sweatshirts. There were sweeping velvet capes, nerd plaid pantsuits and black bell-bottoms; puffer jackets, platform sneakers and feather boas. There was a lot of pink and green (including in a fanny pack).

There were references, sanctioned and agreed, to the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, the Chateau Marmont, SEGA, the Three Little Pigs, Billy Idol and various landmarks around Arles. There were verses from the “Divine Comedy” and symbols of a medieval bestiary in the embroidery. At the end there was a Victorian bride in sweeping white.

You can’t say that Michele, who has never met a narrative strand he did not want to weave into an outfit, doesn’t go all in. If the final result is more like a sprawling, multigenerational saga than a tightly argued tale, so be it. He has managed, in a mere three years, to cement Gucci as an adjective, to expand his purview into home décor and a restaurant (the Gucci Osteria in Florence), and make his reinvention of the brand a reference point for the industry.

Recently reactions to this kind of success have moved from pure awe and envy into whispered speculation about when it all might hit a wall. Judging by the show: Not yet.

Watching it all through the computer in New York made for an interesting experience. (Most attendees at cruise shows in far-flung locations come as “guests of the brand.” The New York Times does not accept free travel or lodging.) Often, sitting on the sidelines of a Gucci show can be overwhelming. There’s so much going on in every outfit that it’s visually exhausting, almost impossible to take in. Michele has vision and enthusiasm and culture to spare, but he does not have a filter.

Distance provides one. A livestream allows you to pause, digest and move on; to skip past the clunky shapes and overly vintage looks to the moments of loveliness. In the Gucci graveyard, as in all of Michele’s collections, there were both.