Michele designs both the menswear and womenswear collections simultaneously, pulling ideas from one to the other. “It’s more interesting, sometimes, to work on the menswear. You can really shout, because menswear is more rigid,” he says. “When you try to manipulate the codes of a man’s wardrobe, you can do something really new. It’s pretty interesting. I started thinking about an idea of beauty that, for me, it doesn’t belong to men or women. It’s almost the same; that’s why I put a few men’s looks on women and the reverse. You can be more masculine showing your femininity.”
In the five years since the fateful show that ordained Michele as one of fashion’s utmost provocateurs, he has staged an overthrow of power in the world of menswear by fashioning new male identities. Michele’s conquest occurs with a stitch in place of a sword. That stitch can hold a hem flared out, so when Donald Glover slinks across a stage, he does so with a glamazon kick. It can hold the shoulder of a jacket tight and high, to relay a schoolboyish charm, or it can secure a button on a silk blouse—even if it looks best undone. All together, these are luxuriously made garments that allow guys to liberate themselves from antiquated codes. No longer must you choose between powerful and cool. Michele’s work allows for the conveyance of a full range of characteristics: sensual, coy, intellectual, menacing. It’s a sharp pivot from Gucci’s last heyday, in the ’90s, when Tom Ford popularized hot-bod hedonism with bare chests and tight trousers.
But to call Michele’s fey fashion radical in the year 2019 is to misunderstand the designer’s mission. The clothes beloved by both Sir Elton John and Snoop Dogg are, even at their wildest, classically minded. “I understood,” Michele says, thinking back to his first show, “that there is nothing more new than an old beautiful code.” He continues: “Dress codes belong to politics; society pushes people to obey the rules—it’s easier. I think that we must completely break from that. Sometimes people feel more comfortable in other types of dress, in other lives. A pop star or an actor, they can be a guide for other people if they show something different.”
No one is a better embodiment of the Michele method of masculinity than Harry Styles, the British capital-P, capital-S Pop Star with a voice and a visage that can launch a thousand shrill screams wherever he goes. “I think Harry is the perfect expression of masculinity,” Michele says of his friend and collaborator. “He is so relaxed in his body, and completely open to listen to himself. He likes to play with dress, with hair. I think that he is really the incarnation of a pop icon of the next generation. He’s the only one on the market, I think, that is really in contact with his feminine part. He’s sexy and he’s handsome.” For the same Met gala that Leto attended dressed as an Elizabethan diva, Styles wore a sheer black pussy-bow blouse with high-waisted trousers, as an homage to the New Romantics of the ’80s, part David Sylvian and part David Bowie. “The friends that I choose in my career, they really reflect my idea of beauty, so I think that they are really connected with their feminine part,” says Michele. “For me, it’s more masculine. A man is really attractive when he listens to his feminine part.”
From the cult of Aphroditus to Jimi Hendrix, men in skirts or ivory poet tops were never out of style, really. But the magic of Michele’s reappropriation of history is that he does it not verbatim but with the hazy almost-rightness of a dream, styling togas over classic gray wool suits or ’80s track pants with swaggy ’70s blouses. As such, Michele’s Gucci promises that to lace up a pair of Ultrapace sneakers or step into its monogram slides is never a sacrifice of self in the name of style. The mash-up of references, the diversity of products, allows for everyone from Offset to Bradley Cooper to find a Gucci piece to love. “It’s not that I want to see all men in a gown. That’s not what I think,” Michele explains. “It’s just that I love the idea that I can be surprised by the personality of someone else. It’s nice to play with your life, to play with codes. I think that the era of being masculine only if you have a specific suit—it’s over. Completely over. Also, women need men who are more connected with a woman’s world.”