Gucci eschews catwalk for inspiring art exhibition in China visit
Brand's new creative director seeks to 'open a door' to China by avoiding the obvious
When Gucci announced it was coming to China, we assumed it would put on a catwalk show. That's expected of luxury brands when they do a big event in the market, especially with a new designer in the hot seat.
But Alessandro Michele, Gucci's new creative director, insisted on creating a dialogue in a different, less obvious way. And Marco Bizzarri, the brand's new CEO, was more than supportive, Michele says: "I love Marco because he gives me freedom."
The result is the "No Longer / Not Yet" art exhibition at Shanghai's Minsheng Museum, co-curated by Michele and stylist and editor Katie Grand.
"First of all, in a place like China we needed to do something that was not just about product; I don't believe in that kind of philosophy," says Michele.
"The Chinese people represent a big taste of what is in fashion now. To talk with China through an exhibition is a way to let me open a door."
Doing a fashion show, says Michele, "would be too literal".
Certainly, Gucci is not the first to commission or collaborate with artists - Christian Dior, Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton are all heavy hitters in the art world now. But what is interesting about this move is that it signals a further shift in the positioning and identity of the label since Michele took the reins.
Rather than totally focus on a key look, or an "it" bag, Michele's creative strength comes from managing to create a new, romantic vision for Gucci.
For No Longer / Not Yet (on show until December 16), participants were given a conceptual brief (taken from the notes of his Gucci show earlier this year) to create original work. Several renowned artists from China, Europe and the US interpreted the idea of "the contemporary".
"I think that the Chinese are more connected with the contemporary. And now they are really ready to talk fashion with another point of view," Michele says.
One room has a series of quirky, dark oil paintings of portraits based on the models in his shows done by "Unskilled Worker" (my favourite) - a female UK artist. In another room are blown-up images of a recent Gucci campaign by Glen Luchford. Next is a moving installation and video by Chinese artist Cao Fei tackling urbanisation.
Michele himself had a room to play with - and titled the work Gucci Tian - referencing the heavens. A mirrored space featured wallpaper with oriental painting motifs, while an inner room held an old painting of an androgynous figure framed with neon lights.
By bringing over something less fashiony and more conceptual, Michele wanted to show fashion aesthetics from a different point of view. By avoiding the obvious, it's also a new viewpoint for Gucci.