Michele was a Tom Ford hire and worked under Frida Giannini. He was plucked from the accessories studio by Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri, an unexpected choice if ever there were one. Early requests for interviews with the scruffy haired designer, who came out for his first bow in January 2015 surrounded by his team, had to wait for the then-unknown to go through media training.
In a statement Bizzarri said: “I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet Alessandro at
the end of 2014, since then we have had the pleasure to work closely together as Gucci has charted its successful path over these last eight years. I would like to thank him for his 20 years of commitment to Gucci and for his vision, devotion, and unconditional love for this unique house during his tenure as creative director.”
But if he was a shy or reluctant front-man at first, he made an instant impact. His first hit walked his debut women’s runway for autumn/winter 2015. That season’s kangaroo-lined loafers had Gucci’s familiar horse-bit hardware, but otherwise announced that Michele would be taking the label in a more eclectic, eccentric direction.
From the get-go, he established his magpie aesthetic, lifting liberally from you-name-the-decade in time expanding style and ushering in an era of gender nonconformity that continues today, while growing a loyal fan base in usually-fickle Hollywood in the process. Michele’s singular vision seduced the likes of Jared Leto (a Michele doppelganger), Dakota Johnson, Billie Eilish, and Harry Styles, whose collaboration with the designer, Ha Ha Ha, recently arrived in stores. In him, perhaps they saw a kindred soul – he studied costume design at Rome’s Academy of Costume and Fashion. In any case, he cultivated a tight-knit group; his Gucci family was a merry band of artists who wore their hearts sometimes literally on their sleeves.
Michele had a flair for rule-breaking hook-ups. There was the autumn/winter 2021 Hacker Project with his Kering stablemate Demna of Balenciaga, and then a year later he beat Demna and Balenciaga to the punch with Gucci’s Adidas collab. Earlier in the pandemic, Michele enlisted the director Gus Van Sant to create a short film set in his hometown of Rome, indulging his love for movies. When he was taken to task for lifting from the Harlem couturier Dapper Dan, Gucci went into business with him. And it was during his tenure that the company launched the Vault, an online resale project for reworked treasures from the label’s jet-set era heyday and an e-commerce emporium for on-the-rise designers that won his seal of approval, among them Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour, Bianca Saunders, and Rui Zhou.
His most prolific collaborator was his partner Giovanni Attili, who drafted what have to be fashion’s most scholarly, if sometimes impenetrable, show notes. Autumn/winter 2018’s source material, Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto”, helped produce one of Michele’s most memorable shows for the house, complete with models carrying lifelike replicas of their own heads. The collection was a metaphor for how people construct their identities with the help of machines and other non-natural additions – “we are the Dr Frankenstein of our own lives”, Michele said at the time – but he was the most human of designers: deeply ruminative and romantic.
Michele’s arrival at Gucci coincided with fashion’s newfound penchant for taking pre-season shows on the road, and he stage-directed some goodies. From the Roman necropolis that is the Alyscamps in Arles, France, to the Roman Forum itself, and from Westminster Abbey in London to LA’s Hollywood Boulevard, where as many celebrities walked the runway as sat in the front row, he was a master at creating an atmosphere. In Milan, Michele’s first shows took place at the Diana Majestic, home to Tom Ford and Frida Giannini’s collections for the brand, but soon moved to new headquarters on the edge of the city whose impressive block-spanning size signalled the brand’s newfound prosperity.
It was on Michele’s watch that Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci was released, and if it was Tom Ford whose likeness appeared on the big screen, in other ways it was Michele’s movie. His pal Jared Leto camped it up as Paolo Gucci, and Lady Gaga, the movie’s scene-chewing star, wore gowns of his design on the red-carpet circuit. Indeed, the Sara Gay Forden book that the movie was based on was published in 2000, but it was only after Gucci’s return to relevance under Michele that the movie finally went into production.
But in fashion even the brightest stars don’t shine forever. Perhaps because of Michele’s agenda-setting success, Gucci’s sales eventually started to dip, and in the wake of the pandemic parent company Kering’s shares fell amidst the brand’s slow-down. A recent WWD report quoted an anonymous source claiming Michele “was asked to initiate a strong design shift”. If that is so, it appears Michele resisted it. With a highly emotional show for spring 2023 featuring 68 sets of twins, he only doubled down on his vision. The show notes from his first women’s collection for autumn/winter 2015 are telling, in this regard. In them is a line from the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben: “Those who are truly contemporary are those who neither perfectly coincide with their time nor adapt to its demands…”
Michele offered his own statement: “There are times when paths part ways because of the different perspectives each one of us may have. Today an extraordinary journey ends for me, lasting more than 20 years, within a company to which I have tirelessly dedicated all my love and creative passion. During this long period Gucci has been my home, my adopted family. To this extended family, to all the individuals who have looked after and supported it, I send my most sincere thanks, my biggest and most heartfelt embrace. Together with them I have wished, dreamed, imagined. Without them, none of what I have built would have been possible. To them goes my most sincerest wish: may you continue to cultivate your dreams, the subtle and intangible matter that makes life worth living. May you continue to nourish yourselves with poetic and inclusive imagery, remaining faithful to your values. May you always live by your passions, propelled by the wind of freedom.” A moving sentiment, and a remarkable tenure.