On A Magic Fashion Ride Clad In Gucci's SS17 Collection
Enter the orient.
BY Lestari Hairul | Mar 21, 2017 | Fashion
“Non ho scritto neppure la metà delle cose che ho visto.”
A plea for a recant of his tales was asked of Marco Polo, and at his deathbed the explorer said this. He had not told half of what he’d seen, he claimed, outrageous and fantastic as his descriptions may have seemed. Strange beasts and even stranger customs tugged at the wandering hearts of many a curious would-be traveller, dreams fanned by Polo’s accounts.
Thick in the flurry of the Lunar New Year preparations, one could just imagine the sheer number of wonders an eye unaccustomed to the East would have had to grapple with. We take artistic liberties and dress a time-travelling emperor of China in the pastiche of Alessandro Michele’s imaginings. Place him in the heart of modern-day Chinatown and let the riot of colours serve as backdrop. What would he make of Chinese culture today? What would he wear?
And what do we, denizens of the magical Orient, make of the Western attempt to capitalise on the chinoiserie? The only way to survive the clash of civilisations is by melding and re-appropriating; mixing and accenting using all the qualities we find beautiful. Michele’s Spring 2017 collection calls to mind the ease with which people in the golden age of travel and discovery, would mix fabric and material, technique and inspiration from the lands and cultures they’ve come to meet. Or conquer. That’s how these qualities spread far and wide, commerce ensuring that they are not confined to their native soils. The fashion industry reaps the bounty today, over and over again with access to a great many ways to adorn the human body. In the preceding pages, an embroidered tailcoat is paired with a felt beret. If it calls to mind the fez-donning be-suited men of a declining Ottoman Empire, let not Edward Said roll in his grave.
The exotic is beautiful in its oddity. The out-of-place-ness of Donald Duck imagery slipped into a Gucci collection is jarring, but slides into acceptance as the kitschy is celebrated and its Americana symbolism is yet another piece for the melting pot. Vogue’s Luke Leitch remarks astutely that it is America’s best Donald. And on the back of the other Donald’s immigration ban one wonders if this is a regression to the time of ignorance, when other cultures were dark and fearsome in their strangeness.
“The world is flat!” Conspiracies abound in this age of Trump, from anti-vaccines to denials about science. An America that is keen on climate denial and it seems on anything that is factual. Flat-earth theories come back in vogue, never mind the countless travellers and explorers, wanderlust captured in social media. The mind ensconced in fear and ignorance is unable to imagine a world beyond its limited experience, the cry for everything American-made and driven by American values drown out the earlier anger at cultural appropriation.
Michele’s clothes aim to inspire travel, dreaming of the distant lands their symbols come from. It is these dreams, a belief in the beauty and knowledge gleaned from strangeness that needs nurturing in these confusing times. Polo and men like him journeyed for those dreams and the world was the better for it. We move now, after conquering the world map, to the future and out into space. We haven’t reached half of what we could possibly see.
Wool and mohair tailcoat, cotton waistcoat, cotton shirt, wool and mohair trousers and felt beret, all by Gucci
This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, March 2017.