As with everything else, and very much so in fashion, timing is everything. In this seasonal trade, the relevance of any collection undoubtedly moves with the times. By the words of English author, critic, curator, and fashion historian James Laver, “When a trend is in fashion, it is ‘smart.’ A year before this, it is ‘daring.’ And 20 years later, it becomes ‘ridiculous.’” Fashion clichés aside, in this rapidly changing business, what’s in may be out faster than you think.
Timeliness is demanding and that’s all part of the business. Most of us don’t get the opportunity to witness this creative process, but we can appreciate the intricate affair of combining foresight and craft to produce collections. Before any designer showcases his or her collection for the world to see, he or she has the daunting task of forecasting what’s in for that season before he or she starts to design the pieces.
It’s this notion of timeliness that Gucci’s No Longer/Not Yet exhibition explores. Curated by its creative director, Alessandro Michele, and Love magazine’s editor-in-chief, Katie Grand, the exhibition invited seven artists (Cao Fei, Li Shurui, Jenny Holzer, Rachel Feinstein, Glen Luchford, Nigel Shafran, and Unskilled Worker) from all over the world to offer their takes on what is contemporary through their creative works including paintings, photographs, sculptures showcased in separate rooms at the Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai. The exhibition also includes a piece by Michele titled The Boy In Red.
Since Michele took control of the house, he was inspired by the attitudes of youth and the contemporary images presented by great fashion photographers. According to the designer, “it is a state of temporal flux, where relics of the past merge with signs of the future, and where there is freedom to construct new meanings at this intersection of divergent paths.” It is with this appreciation that Michele’s Fall/Winter 2015 collection encapsulates traces of pre-existing worlds and glimmers of worlds in the making.
According to Michele, his work has been largely influenced by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s take on the subject. “Those who are truly contemporary are those who neither perfectly coincide with their time nor adapt to its demands… They are never at home in the present moment.” With the prevailing theme of exploring the notion of contemporary as well as Agamben’s writing as a starting point, the seven artists got to work.
How did the two of you put this exhibition together?
Alessandro Michele: It began with a brave idea – we did not have a lot of time to tell the story. I wanted to show my personal approach to what time and contemporary meant. It is not a very precise idea, but I shared it with some people, and we began with this idea. When you have to work on a show, it is such hard work. It is about long hours, people waiting, and focusing on all the minute details. You see a beautiful picture that people love – and this is an accumulation of effort. I understand people just want to see the posh side of fashion, but it is something that comes with a lot of work. When I started working at Gucci, I tried to destroy everything and create something new. We changed the space completely, and the way we worked transformed with the space, along with our working attitudes. I tried to push another design language as well. It was a bit of a crazy place to be at the time, but if you want to create something new in the fashion or art world, you have to go a bit mad first. That’s when you can start your own little revolution.
Katie Grand: And this is something extremely different to what Gucci was before, where it was greatly focused on luxury and travel.
AM: I wanted to liberate Gucci from the cage that is fashion. I was very inspired by the attitudes of youth and the contemporary images presented by great fashion photographers. This was the beginning where I felt like I needed to clean up Gucci. But I am not a minimalist designer, I am more maximalist. I need more and more. It is a way to communicate, I feel. I like this invention of a super sleek language.
What does the title of the show, No Longer/Not Yet, mean?
AM: It is about the now. It is a beautiful sentence that says, “I need to talk about the present, the contemporary.” My point of view on this is very personal. If you want to talk about what is contemporary, you can’t use something succinct and present, you also have to look to the past, which I do with my designs. It is a way to see where we are now. It is a philosophy that I follow, even though it’s difficult to explain.
Katie, what is your take?
KG: When people talk about modernity so much in fashion, it becomes a word that has been used too often.
AM: People in the fashion industry are very sensitive to the future, but I am not too much. My work is much more of a process. I really love talking about what is contemporary; in the way everyone can use a minimalistic expression to explain what contemporary means to them. The future is not something I am interested in very much, because I see value in using what is in the present to build the future instead. You can dream about the future, but the most inspiring thing about the present is truly the now.
There is a piece by you, Alessandro. What is it about?
AM: I decided to talk about the idea of beauty, and decided to construct a space with a cube to translate the illusion of beauty. Placing it inside a mirrored box and coupling it with a reproduction of an old Tudor painting in my home. I wanted to let the past talk to the present. I tried to put some meaning to allow differing points of time to communicate – beauty becomes an open space and it becomes an idea that the beauty you value is the one that you don’t wholly understand.
Your works amplify the effect of gender-blurring. So is this a reflection of how you think we dress ourselves?
KG: I think it is interesting as when I first walked into the Gucci store, and it was the first time Alessandro’s collection was in the store. And for someone like me who knows the brand inside out, I was confused as to whether what I was seeing was for men or women. And he answered, it is whatever you want it to be. It’s an elegant way to merge differing aesthetics that we adopt into our daily lives.
AM: It is a way to live. I try to push the question of gender, and I think it was very clear in my show. My personal idea of beauty is reflected in this statement. Even when I shop in my own time, I find myself being drawn to beautiful pieces from women’s collections. It is to say that you can liberate yourself, and be free without prescribing to gender norms. If you’re free, everything is fun.
Text by Lance Lim
This story was first published in Men’s Folio.