Gucci marks 100th anniversary with new exhibition in Florence

Focusing on the brand under Alessandro Michele, this is a whirlwind tour of his unique vision

The campaign for the autumn / winter 2016 collection,Tokyo Lights, has been recreated for the Gucci Garden Archetypes exhibition in Florence. Courtesy Gucci
The campaign for the autumn / winter 2016 collection,Tokyo Lights, has been recreated for the Gucci Garden Archetypes exhibition in Florence. Courtesy Gucci

To mark the 100th birthday of the house of Gucci, the company launched an expansive exhibition in the city where it all started, Florence.

Called Archetypes, the exhibition at Gucci Garden on the city’s Piazza della Signoria is a celebration of the latest chapter in the brand's story, which began in 1921 when Guccio Gucci began selling high-end travel bags.

The interior of a New York subway for the autumn / winter 2015 Urban Daydream collection. Courtesy Gucci
The interior of a New York subway for the autumn / winter 2015 Urban Daydream collection. Courtesy Gucci

The brand is now under the creative direction of Alessandro Michele, who during his short tenure – six and a half years – has upended the codes of the house, shifting it from being a label known for being expensive but dull, to a dazzling, mismatched celebration of fashion.

Case in point, the first fashion show of Gucci's centennial year, called Aria, was a collaboration with another subversive fashion powerhouse, Balenciaga.

From the Gucci Collectors show campaign for autumn / winter 2018, a mirrored hall of clocks, wigs, butterflies, stuffed toys and sneakers, as part of the Gucci Garden Archetypes exhibition. 
From the Gucci Collectors show campaign for autumn / winter 2018, a mirrored hall of clocks, wigs, butterflies, stuffed toys and sneakers. Courtesy Gucci

Perhaps fittingly then, this birthday exhibition focuses not on the history of the house, but its meteoric rise under Michele, with vignettes build of some of his most startling advertising campaigns. Imagined as an immersive, multimedia experience, it recreates 15 of Michele’s most watershed campaigns, which the designer described during the accompanying press conference as being a “playground of emotions”.

Corridors come scrawled with graffiti, in a nod to the pre-fall 2018 show, which echoed the student riots of Paris in May 1968. From the autumn 2018 Gucci Collectors collection, there is a mirrored hall lined with wigs, butterflies, stuffed toys and even cuckoo clocks, each one set to a different time.

One room is made to look like the Berlin nightclub bathroom featured in the spring 2016 campaign, while another is the interior of a club itself, complete with a breakdancing duo (pre-fall 2017). The New York subway carriage from Michele’s first campaign, for autumn/winter 2015, has been rebuilt, down even to the rubber flooring, while from the autumn/winter 2017 Gucci and Beyond show, there is a miniaturised cast of models fleeing a tyrannosaurus rex.

An installation of the autumn / winter 2017 campaign for Gucci and Beyond, as part of the Gucci Garden Archetypes exhibition in Florence. Courtesy Gucci
An installation of the autumn / winter 2017 campaign for Gucci and Beyond, as part of the Gucci Garden Archetypes exhibition in Florence. Courtesy Gucci

Of his wildly unpredictable vision, Michele explained that he is drawn to newness, calling himself "an eclectic; I fall in love with a bit of everything; I get tired of everything".

Michele’s unbridled imagination has helped redraw the lines of what constitutes men’s and women’s fashion. He has dressed men (including singer Harry Styles) in pussy-bow blouses and even dresses, while cladding women in everything from men’s suiting to Marie Antoinette style wigs and gowns. Of his unique vision, which has helped Gucci achieve record growth, Michele said: “Fashion has the great capacity to interpret and to collect what is happening now ... to narrate the exact moment.”

As part of the Gucci Garden Archetypes exhibition, part of the Soul Scene campaign from pre-fall 2017 has been recreated. Courtesy Gucci  
As part of the Gucci Garden Archetypes exhibition, the Soul Scene campaign from pre-fall 2017 has been recreated. Courtesy Gucci

Of the danger of remaining static in fashion, Michele explained that “if fashion and the fashion market want to continue to have a stage, there needs to be some sort of movement".

Through diverse casting of both models for his shows and campaigns, as well as the breaking of gender "rules", Michele said he hopes his clothes speak to a wide range of people, "of all types, of all sizes, of all races, of all origins. Six and a half years ago, in my opinion, it was not so and therefore I am very happy".

The show will run in Florence for two weeks only, before touring seven cities, including Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney and Seoul.

Updated: May 16, 2021 01:44 PM

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