Bum bags, trainers with orthopaedic soles and norm-core fashion are now all staple features of our daily wardrobes, and Gucci has been instrumental in our adoption of the ‘ugly’ aesthetic. We explore the super-brand’s role in our rejection of what was previously accepted as ‘good taste’.
Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele was a relative unknown when he took the helm at the house. At the time, a general feeling of ennui was pervasive in the fashion industry – the style cognoscenti was bored with the predictability of ‘luxury’ fashion, then characterised by streamlined minimalism and gilded understatement. Michele challenged this with a debut collection unlike anything else on the runway. His first menswear show back in 2015 was met with thundering applause by the fashion elite – critics hailed it as a ‘moment’ (one of the industry’s most sacred compliments) and the furore was heard from Rome to New York. A line-up of Geek-chic, androgynous models with long, unkempt locks came down the catwalk in transparent chiffon and pussybows, fluffy sliders reminiscent of Birkenstocks and lumpen knitwear. It marked the dawn of our obsession with the now iconic fur-lined mules and corporate suiting – pieces that would previously have had no place in a stylish man’s wardrobe. Looking back, that collection was reserved by comparison with what was to come.
Famously, Michele’s studio is in Rome, which he told the New York Times was “the perfect place to stay a little bit away from fashion” and each year’s offering is more objectively ‘ugly’ and perhaps even abrasive than the last. The most recent co-ed show was held in a mock operating theatre and involved models holding replicas of their own heads (a comment on self-regeneration through technology.) Gucci fuels and feeds fashion’s appetite for something new – something unsettling, something that needs to be understood before it can be appreciated. The brand’s faux-bootleg T-shirts and nylon tracksuits (reminiscent of those worn by ‘90s kids in the playground) have that ‘if-you-know-you-know’ tribal quality to them – the kind that satisfies the industry insiders’ need for exclusivity. Like a crystal-studded wink shared conspiratorially between you and another disciple of the brand, the ‘ugly’ pieces signal your shared hidden knowledge of the closeted world of fashion. When you wear them, you are in cahoots with Gucci itself.
Ugliness is the antithesis of what fashion has historically stood for, and ugly fashion is both symbolic and symptomatic of our rejection of commonly accepted standards of beauty. In a digital world where we are constantly bombarded by content, we’ve become fed up with the painstakingly curated perfection of our Instagram feeds. Ugliness is an antidote to this, offering relief from the oppressive flawlessness we’re force fed by the media. It holds the promise of authenticity and feels transgressive and liberating. Ironically, Gucci collections tend to get Instagram seriously fired up – #gucci has 51 million tags.
Gucci’s ‘ugly’ fashion is exciting because it’s subversive. It’s relatively common practice now, but when Michele started out a mere three years ago, the gender fluidity and unconventional aesthetics of his shows were a revelation. Simultaneously unpretentious and elitist, provocative and un-sexy, the success of Michele at Gucci and others like him (Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga for instance) marks a new dawn of luxury. This new type is a rebellion against the old guard and draws attention by virtue of its difference, not its refinement.
Ugly fashion has become mainstream. Unremarkable clothing is king, dad sneakers reign supreme, and Gucci is at the vanguard of the ‘ugly’ revolution. Fashion may be cyclical, but something tells us that ‘ugly’ won’t go away any time soon – it’s too much fun and ultimately practical. Anorak, anyone? Trends last longer these days, and whilst the aesthetic will begin to look old at some point in the future, it’s unlikely to lose its shine. Although we’re sure that if it does, Gucci will be the first to come up with the next big thing.