The Aria collection celebrates Gucci’s 100th anniversary

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As sirens blare and subwoofers thump, a tall model in a satin suit enters the Savoy Club — a tribute to the Savoy Hotel where Guccio Gucci worked as a bellboy. Peering through the eyehole, the model sees blissful wilderness. As they enter, Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” (2017) starts playing. Then, models rapidly march through a hallway as coruscating cameras mounted onto the wall illuminate them. When the final model exits, they saunter through their subtly clustered colleagues and open large black doors to the wonderland teased at the opening. The models flow into this marvelous world, joining white peacocks, cockatoos and horses basking in the misty wind. Shortly, the video ends as the models float and reach for the shimmering sky. 

Wow. One hundred years of Gucci. While some would party with champagne and fireworks, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele celebrates with his Aria collection (2021): a presentation of Gucci’s brilliant historical craft with a touch of modern creativity. Michele vehemently asserts, “Gucci’s long history can’t be contained within a single inaugural act,” and his work certainly reflects the brand’s multitudinous inspirations: founder Guccio Gucci’s “horse wear”; former creative director Tom Ford’s hedonist aesthetic; and Michele’s own chic style. In exploring Gucci’s past, Michele fuses Gucci classics with modern style, historical material with modern organization and vintage composition with new-school sound.

In its early years, Gucci prided itself for luxury clothing made with premium materials, and Michele certainly praises this dignity, composing historic pieces from satin, leather and Gucci’s famous GG Canvas, adorned all over with a double-G logo. Michele draws from Guccio Gucci’s early archives to produce clothing inspired by 19th century horse-riding: saddle bags worn over leather breastplates donned by horse-riders; rubber horse-riding boots covering leather jodhpurs; and tassel whips, equestrian straps, harnesses and helmets.  

After being appointed creative director of Gucci in the 1990s, Ford began stirring consumers and critics by exploring erotic attire. Referencing Ford’s bon vivant style, Michele contrasts Guccio Gucci’s monotone horse-riding clothing with saturated and seductive clothing. In fact, Michele opens his collection with a velvet (fabric and color) suit paired with a sky-blue button-down shirt which opens to reveal a bondage-style choker and chain. Ford’s influence is evident as Michele sporadically displays lustrous suits, glamorous accessories and sparkling fabrics. 

With his 2014–16 renaissance, Michele revived Gucci classics such as the double-G monogram and luxurious handbags while approaching modern fashion trends like geek-chic and androgyny. Combining Gucci iconography with modern concepts, colors and silhouettes, Michele has established a vivacious Gucci canon that appeals to both youthful fashionistas and adults. However, Michele recognizes the importance of homage, and limits the frequency of his artistry — chic skirts and dresses, androgynous garments and extravagant accessories — placing it covertly into the collection. 

But there is an elephant (or perhaps horse) in the room: Balenciaga. Michele described his process as experimenting in a “hacking lab made of incursions and metamorphoses,” and Balenciaga appears to “hack” some pieces as Michele uses styles “pilfered” from Balenciaga’s creative director, Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia. Some of these hacked pieces include a suiting dress, purse and heels with an all-over flower print and a black, diagonal “Balenciaga” pattern, a sparkling pantsuit wrapped with “GUCCI” and “BALENCIAGA” and a sharp blazer with Balenciaga print interrupting GG Canvas.  

Throughout the anniversary collection, Michele manages 100 years of history as he conflates Guccio Gucci’s vintage horse-wear with Tom Ford’s seductive aesthetic, blending lingerie and rubber riding boots or horse-bit loafers and satin blazers, while exhibiting his own contemporary creativity. In my favorite look — which I think summarizes the collection — Michele combines all three aesthetics, grouping bright red dress trousers and a muted magenta double-breasted suede jacket, which covers a salmon button-front shirt. The model accessorizes with a blush fur shawl and wears classic light brown horse-bit loafers. Though “Gucci is a complex container that holds many, many things,” Michele selects ground-breaking moments in Gucci’s history and honors them accordingly as he combines past, present, future and Balenciaga, and “[renewing] for the millionth time this brand, this name, this myth, this saga.”