From the get-go, he established his magpie aesthetic, lifting liberally from you-name-the-decade in time expanding style and ushering in an era of gender nonconformity that continues today, while growing a loyal fan base in usually-fickle Hollywood in the process. Michele’s singular vision seduced the likes of Jared Leto (a Michele doppelganger), Dakota Johnson, Billie Eilish, and Harry Styles, whose collaboration with the designer, Ha Ha Ha, recently arrived in stores. In him, perhaps they saw a kindred soul—he studied costume design at Rome’s Academy of Costume and Fashion. In any case, he cultivated a tight-knit group; his Gucci family was a merry band of artists who wore their hearts sometimes literally on their sleeves.
Michele had a flair for rule-breaking hookups. There was the fall 2021 Hacker Project with his Kering stablemate Demna of Balenciaga, and then a year later he beat Demna and Balenciaga to the punch with Gucci’s Adidas collab. Earlier in the pandemic, Michele enlisted the director Gus Van Sant to create a short film set in his hometown of Rome, indulging his love for movies. When he was taken to task for lifting from the Harlme couturier Dapper Dan, Gucci went into business with him. And it was during his tenure that the company launched the Vault, an online resale project for reworked treasures from the label’s jet-set era heyday and an e-commerce emporium for on-the-rise designers that won his seal of approval, among them Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour, Bianca Saunders, and Rui Zhou.
His most prolific collaborator was his partner Giovanni Attili, who drafted what have to be fashion’s most scholarly, if sometimes impenetrable, show notes. Fall 2018’s source material, Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” helped produce one of Michele’s most memorable shows for the house, complete with models carrying lifelike replicas of their own heads. The collection was a metaphor for how people construct their identities with the help of machines and other non-natural additions—“we are the Dr. Frankenstein of our own lives,” Michele said at the time—but he was the most human of designers: deeply ruminative and romantic.
Michele’s arrival at Gucci coincided with fashion’s newfound penchant for taking pre-season shows on the road, and he stage-directed some goodies. From the Roman necropolis that is the Alyscamps in Arles, France, to the Roman Forum itself, and from Westminster Abbey in London to LA’s Hollywood Boulevard, where as many celebrities walked the runway as sat in the front row, he was a master at creating an atmosphere. In Milan, Michele’s first shows took place at the Diana Majestic, home to Tom Ford and Frida Gianni’s collections for the brand, but soon moved to new headquarters on the edge of the city whose impressive block-spanning size signaled the brand’s newfound prosperity.
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