If fashion is becoming an increasingly politicised space, Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, didn’t waste an opportunity to make his position clear at the brand’s latest fashion show in Rome. Referencing the recent outrage over abortion bans in the US, he said he “wanted to reflect that women need to be respected” with his latest collection and to use his high-profile position to promote freedom of choice.
Women “should be free to choose what they want and terminate a pregnancy … [It] is the most difficult choice for a woman to make and I respect that choice,” he told reporters at a post-show press conference at the Palazzo Nouveau museum.
Michele had shown a 97-look collection that featured T-shirts with slogans including “My body, my choice” and “Chime”, the latter referring to Gucci’s long-running gender equality campaign Chime for Change. The standout piece was a long silk dress featuring a flower growing inside a uterus depicted by embroidery.
That he should present such direct references alongside papal silhouettes – including several iterations of the distinctive cappello romano hats, clerical collars and scapulas worn by the clergy and habits worn by nuns – brought the gulf between the free choice Michele advocates and the stance of the Catholic church into sharp context. The Vatican, a short distance across the River Tiber from show venue on the Capitoline Hill, may have launched a women’s football team with the pope’s blessing last week, but its opposition to abortion is unwavering.
The inclusion of such garments also showed Michele has not backed away from religious appropriation following controversy earlier this month surrounding his use of a turban the Sikh Council UK decried as “degrading mimicry”. The narrative around his latest collection used a quote by the French archaeologist and historian Paul Veyne as a manifesto: “Only pagan antiquity awakened my desire, because it was the world of before, because it was an abolished world.”
The Milan-based brand’s relocation to Rome has been a homecoming for 47-year-old Michele, who was born in the city and studied at the Accademia di Costume e di Moda. It continued his ongoing interest in “the old world”, which he revealed started as a child growing up surrounded by the city’s antiquities.
“I came [to this museum] as a child because I didn’t like football or amusement parks. I was always interested in art and I became obsessed with architecture here as there are antiquities here which have never left,” he said. “In many ways I am like an archaeologist. I discover things that I like but you cannot see.”
This translated on the catwalk into laurel-leaf headwear, draped togas and an abundance of gold medallions, engraved trinkets and elaborate gold plating as both jewellery and body armour. The show was staged in near darkness and the audience provided with torches.
Aside from the ancient inhabitants of the Eternal City, Stevie Nicks was Michele’s muse for this and possibly many other of his collections. The Fleetwood Mac star is the natural poster girl for Michele’s 70s-inspired aesthetic at . Gucci. Flared trouser suits, long maxi dresses and retro knitwear had Michele’s insouciant handwriting all over them. Guitar cases labelled “the Gucci band” were also inscribed with Veyne’s quote. An ongoing collaboration with another US icon, Mickey Mouse, also featured heavily on coats, bags and basics.
Nicks performed a set at the after-show party which featured two duets with Michele’s current campaign star, Harry Styles. The designer and One Direction star were seen together on the red carpet at the Met ball in New York earlier this month, which marked the opening of the gallery’s blockbuster exhibition, Camp: Notes on Fashion.