Inside the New Gucci Archive in Florence With Its Maestro Alessandro Michele

The idea of a journey definitely comes to mind when you tour the archive, which feels like a modern wunderkammer. The Serapis room in particular is rather spectacular : the metallic parallelepipedon at its center opens up mechanically like a treasure chest, revealing inside the bespoke outfits you’ve designed for Bjork, Florence Welch, or Lana del Rey. It’s reminiscent of the stage sets of baroque theater and their marvelous mechanical machines, isn’t it?

A.M. Indeed. The idea of the wunderkammer is linked to that of travel and, yes, the mechanical box is rather theatrical. I think that fashion is a sort of theater—not in the baroque sense of inducing a sense of wonder, shock, and magnificence, but in that fashion is something that moves, it has an inherent movement, it isn’t still. Fashion objects compose and recompose like our lives. The mechanical box in the Serapis room has certainly to do with the stage outfits it conceals or reveals, but it’s also a metaphor of the lives of those outfits, which is deeply linked to that of the women who wore them. And I like things that apparently seem like one thing and then become another. Lately I’ve been giving much thought to the idea of ambiguity, which is fashion’s most beautiful quality. Ambiguity doesn’t only refer to gender; according to its etymological roots, no one is just one thing but every personality is mercurial, changeable. This is the nature of fashion, and the objects housed in this archive are intrinsically ambiguous, they’ve been inherited from the past but they’re present today in their three-dimensional physical form. You can actually touch them, and metaphorically it’s like if you were touching the past, which has a sort of ambiguous, fascinating connotation.

Talking about the past, its value is being questioned today. Young generations seem to acknowledge only the here and now. To know the past doesn’t seem a necessary tool to understand the present. Making Gucci’s history visible to be read and passed on to young generations—was it one of the purposes of opening the archive?

A.M.: I have an everyday dialogue with the past, which for me has full existence and presence. It just doesn’t make sense to say that the past doesn’t have a dialogue with us; if in this instant I go out the door to take a walk in the Santo Spirito neighborhood, I’m surrounded more by what has been than by what will be. The past is an essential, inescapable constituent of the present. For me, the past is the present—this is my constant assumption. In my creative practice I’m not recovering or recapturing the past. I don’t like to say that I’m recovering the past, because this past is a present that I live always. I myself am a past that speaks to today. The elimination of the past, to erase it—it’s an unnatural process. My partner Vanni has made me understand that I’m using the past as a fuel; it depends on which chemical reagent you put it in contact with. For me the past is a formidable entity, I breathe it like something which exists today. The way I use vintage—it’s like a bridge, if I have to cross a river, will I have to have a bridge to reach the place I want to reach, or not? We’re all on that bridge; let’s see where it leads us. So I invite young people not to be fooled by the bi-dimensional life we live today, but to observe things with care, more deeply and accurately. The dialogue with the past generates great seeds of knowledge. The future we all talk about is perhaps less fascinating than the present, which instead is full and rich with experience—every single minute of it. The patrimony of a fashion brand like Gucci… its rich legacy speaks to you. It’s up to you to listen to it or not. But relationships don’t last very long if you don’t listen and speak to each other.