Sin and Salience

The Fall/Winter 2018 Fashion Week shows by both Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana took very different approaches to social and technological modernity. Features writer Emily Bacal dives into these differences and discusses how Gucci may have gotten it so right in the same ways Dolce & Gabbana missed the mark.

As an artistic medium, fashion strives to capture the cultural landscape while indulging its dreamscape. Such relevance is achieved through a constant dialogue with the world: as society changes, so must fashion. The unprecedented rate of change and relentless digitization of modern times demands response. In today’s world, if you’re not moving, you’re already dead.

Two fashion giants have confronted this challenge in two very different ways, one with markedly more success than the other. Gucci’s continued relevance is evidenced by its ubiquity in the modern vocabulary, cropping up everywhere from Migos songs to Rihanna’s skin (via a crystal-encrusted bodysuit). Dolce & Gabbana, while remaining far from obsolete, has failed to respond sufficiently to the changing demands impressed upon it. Instead, it continues to reproduce tired prints and symbols implemented in a way that’s all gimmick and no innovation. The brands’ Fall Winter 2018 Ready to Wear (RTW) collections exemplify the differences in direction of two of Italy’s most iconic houses.

Gucci’s FW18 RTW presentation was unsettling and striking, forcing its audience to grapple critically with its meaning. Working within an industry known to combat the bad by glossing it over with shiny silks and shimmering lurex, creative director Alessandro Michele fulfilled this function and furthered it by making garments simultaneously chic and chilling. The collection asserts itself, heavily conceptual yet commercially viable. Sarah Mower, chief critic at Vogue.com, remarked that “It was sensational — in a disturbing and creepy way — as it set out to probe truths around fashion as a medium for transmitting inner states: a picture of what is happening as human brains have become irradiated in the LED light of the information age.” The heavily-nuanced ensembles incorporated everything from Victorian blouses emblazoned with New York Yankee logos to turbans paired with textural bombers, gem encrusted sandals, and unibrows — and that’s to say nothing of the reptiles held gingerly in models’ hands or the severed heads they cradled like footballs.

The opposite of chilling, Dolce & Gabbana’s take on modernity was a self-indulgent devotional to its following, a sop to consumerism. Maximalism was taken to the point of desensitization. Vogue Italy described the show as “halfway between ‘sacred’ and ‘profane,’” a description which accounts both for the tailored suiting in rich brocades and the kitschy slogans which crowded sweatshirts, headbands, and glasses. D&G’s one bid at modernity was to send drones affixed with handbags cruising down the runway, a detail completely disconnected from the rest of the show. The small machines generated buzz as they bobbed forth with their bejeweled burdens, but any praise dried up quickly once the clothes were presented. “Preempting all hell being let loose, the words on the first model’s look were ‘fashion sinner’,” said Mower. And sin it did, with every manner of cliche strung together as carelessly as the beaded cross necklaces strewn over tasteless graphic tees. Velour sweatsuits emblazoned with flippant sayings might have been borrowed from the racks of Forever 21. Viewers were hit repeatedly over the head with tired D&G signatures; Renaissance-esque putti were wrought in sequins, embroidered onto sweaters, and printed onto silk dresses. Heavenly symbols became tasteless, superfluous white noise. This was not reinvention, but mere restatement. The foppish romance of this over-wrought ode to modernity laughed where Michele’s collection bared its teeth. Both were flush with multi-layered confections, but while D&G’s looked jumbled and confused, Gucci presented layered looks of authentic intentionality.

Though Gucci’s ensembles were elaborate, they resisted escapist interpretation; the collection was presented within an operating room set, a context which grounded it firmly in the everyday. Operating rooms exemplify the meticulously-standardized, reassuringly ordinary procedure of modern life. The rigid, contained violence of hospitals was juxtaposed with the imaginative freedom of artistic creation. Michele reminds us that even within the fantasy world of fashion, we are only one step removed from the assembly lines which drearily, mechanically, and sometimes monstrously dole out rubber boots and root canals alike. Posed as surgeon, Michele proclaimed his act of creation as the “cutting up and weaving together different parts of identity.” By likening the surgeon to the artist and presenting a collection at once visceral and ethereal, Michele questions our notions of doctoring and artistry, authenticity and fabrication.

Gucci’s collection explores the implications of modern technology, begging the question: can people be contained within art? In an era of technologically-facilitated social interaction, the role external representation plays in formulating internal identity has shifted. People are constantly compelled to present their lives aesthetically through photographs posted on the Internet, creating digital profiles which function as extensions of the self. The actual body becomes interchangeable with its online representation. The chilling dissonance of severed heads and the suggestion of the artist as a modern Dr. Frankenstein evokes this dualism, exploring the increasingly-disparate permutations of the self facilitated by modern technology. The replica heads toted down the runway may stand in for cell phones, an inversion acknowledging the fact that these devices have replaced our faces as the interface through which we interact with modern society.

Gucci has rejected the tired cliche of couturiers as remote figures ensconced in lofty attic studios, disconnected from the populace.

Both houses experienced a rise in annual growth rates in 2017, but while Dolce & Gabbana rose nine percent, Gucci has routinely been experiencing “annual growth rates close to 50 percent” according to The Business of Fashion. Chief Executive Marco Bizzarri explained Gucci’s shift in strategy, explaining its new focus on connection, engagement, and interaction in the way that they approach social media and digital resources, claiming that these “make the Gucci experience today.” The house engages directly with people and politics, as exemplified by their recent donation to March For Our Lives. Bizzari states that “Today you need as a corporation and as a leader to take [a] stance.” This contrasts Stefano Gabbana’s perspective, “I really don’t care about American politics. You do what you want. I’m a designer!” Gucci has rejected the tired cliche of couturiers as remote figures ensconced in lofty attic studios, disconnected from the populace.

Innovation and creation are processes which flow between consumers and designers, from the streets to the runway and vice versa.

Today, fashion rule is not imposed from the top down. Rather, innovation and creation are processes which flow between consumers and designers, from the streets to the runway and vice versa. Gucci has become enmeshed within the everyday, participating in the real world, melding together the ordinary and the extraordinary. Authenticity and corporate ethos matter as much to today’s consumers as do products. To deny this shift is to refuse to respond to cultural change. D&G may have the right idea about fashion as the new religion, but Gucci is in the pulpit- and everyone is saying amen to the wonder and resonance of their sartorial sermon.

 

Art by Clara Poteet. Originally published in Rocket Vol. VIII, Issue 2.

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