By Peter Howarth
You know you’re in the company of the fashion aristocracy when you are invited to a private tour of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence by Gucci. But you know you’re in the company of true fashion royalty when this invitation extends to a walk through the Vasari Corridor, a private route above the Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi across the river Arno to the Boboli Gardens of the Palazzo Pitti.
This passageway was commissioned in 1565 by Cosimo I de’Medici on the occasion of his son Francesco’s wedding to Joanna of Austria. Designed by Giorgio Vasari, who also began the work on the Uffizi, it allowed safe passage from the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of government, to the residential Palazzo Pitti. Today the corridor is lined with more than 1,000 paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, among them a large collection of self-portraits of renowned artists.
Although the Vasari Corridor is currently closed to the public due to renovations, it is open to guests of Gucci, which earlier this week staged its Cruise 2018 show in its hometown of Florence.
Moving through the Uffizi (passing masterpieces by Botticelli, Paolo Uccello and Piero Della Francesca) then into the Vasari Corridor (where you can imagine the ghosts of Florentine elite passing to and fro) was a clever scene-setter for the fashion show that followed. In particular the Botticelli rooms, as the maestro’s long-limbed beauties were to be echoed later on Gucci’s catwalk. Indeed, the flower-bedecked dress worn by Botticelli’s Flora in the famous painting Primavera (Spring, c.1480) could be straight out of Gucci Creative Director Alessandro Michele’s imagination.
Before the main event, we also had to pass through the Boboli gardens. This 45-hectare green space, a harmonious combination of sculptures, architecture and plants, dates to the 16th century. Its unique ecosystem includes plants that were brought to Tuscany centuries ago from all over the world. Knowing that Gucci has become a patron of the Primavera di Boboli (Spring in the Boboli Gardens) project, contributing €2m (£1.75m) to help restore the Gardens and secure their legacy, meant that this was so much more than a pleasant bucolic stroll on a spring evening.
A cocktail on a terrace of the Palazzo Pitti with a spectacular view overlooking the city, which was bathed in golden evening light, meant that by the time we took our seats we had been completely immersed in the beauty and history of the place where Gucci started almost a century ago in 1921.
Even the wait for the show to begin was transformed into a moment of wonder. The catwalk took place in the Palatine Gallery, the Palazzo Pitti’s main gallery which is hung to bursting with more than 500 paintings, mostly from the Renaissance. These were once part of the private art collections of the Medicis and the Habsburg-Lorraines. Sitting on small folding stools surrounded by works by Raphael, Titian, Perugino, Correggio and Peter Paul Rubens, under the frescoed ceilings of Pietro da Cortona, it was hard not to feel transported to a place far, far away from the tensions of modern life.
So when Alessandro Michele’s models finally appeared, it felt utterly right and proper that they should be wearing his trademark decorative garments, embellished, embroidered, and patterned like something from a luxurious dress-up chest. Michele has made a name for himself as a true romantic, creating a thoroughly contemporary, eclectic aesthetic that takes in influences from punk and street style as well as from the great artworks and architecture of the 15th and 16th centuries.
‘I like popular culture and this is the reason why I like the Renaissance, because it is super pop, ‘ says the designer. ‘Pop means we all understand it and admire it.
However, there is a coherence to his magpie mix, and the result has a distinctive design logic. In part, Michele’s signature derives from his love of the natural world, particularly flora and fauna, which seem to infuse much of what he does, appearing in patterns, decorations and motifs. This Cruise collection, for example, features a reference to a stinging nettle, urtica ferox, which the designer says ‘had something hidden inside… it’s the most exotic thing’.
Afterwards backstage, Michele spoke about the colour pink ‘it’s very powerful. That kind of colour which was really sweet and really sexy, also if you’re a man,’ adding, ‘I’m connected with the Renaissance, always.’ But typically, his take on the period, and the complementary venue he chose to show this collection, is anything but literal.
‘I was thinking to inject some rock ‘n’ roll inside the collection,’ he explains. ‘That’s why I was looking to do faces like all the models from the Renaissance, they were the most eccentric and rock ‘n’ roll!’
It speaks volumes about Michele and his version of Gucci that the flourishing of civilisation, art and culture that is the Italian Renaissance is to him an example of the disruptive and idiosyncratic, similar to the creativity of an Iggy Pop, a Mick Jagger or a Johnny Rotten.
‘Yeah, it’s still in our culture, it’s still here,’ says the designer. ‘The unique way to be rock ‘n’ roll – it’s something that I adore… this is our culture, where we’re from, it’s still inside everyone – it’s impossible to disconnect. That’s why… I was thinking what was the most powerful place for that kind of innovation – it’s the Renaissance.’
Then as if to reinforce the rock ‘n’ roll Renaissance message, the after party, held in the gardens of Serre Torrigiani, featured a set by Beth Ditto.
Images courtesy of Gucci (shot by Dan Lecca and Ronan Gallagher).