Alessandro Michele talks about fashion, freedom, family and philosophy

TURIN, Italy – “This feels like a rock concert,” said Alessandro Michele, as he entered the spacious pavilion at the Salone del Libro international book fair on Saturday and marveled at the number of young visitors cheering him on. “In this digital age, the younger generations still choose words and books,” he said, somewhat surprised.

To be fair, this edition of the fair was particularly overcrowded, which surprised even the organizers. Michele’s appearance to present his first book, an autobiography entitled “La Vita delle Forme: Filosofia del Reincanto [The Life of Shapes: Philosophy of Re-enchantment],” written with philosopher Emanuele Coccia, filled the venue as fans dutifully lined up for about an hour for the book signing.

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After appearing clearly affected by the reaction at his first public appearance since leaving the role of Gucci’s creative director in November 2022, Michele looked very relaxed and happy, at times styling his signature long dark hair under a cap and green gully. , worn over light indigo jeans and a white T-shirt with green details.

Michele talked about his family and his life, as he did in an interview with WWD after the event at the fair.

Surprisingly, the book contains no photographs or sketches and despite Michele’s love of color and decoration, the cover has an ‘undecided’ shade, with the title in red and a central, small black medieval symbol on it vaguely reminiscent of a butterfly. “I wanted to celebrate the word, naked in its complexity,” Michele said, deliberately avoiding the word “fashion” in the title “to avoid potential readers getting the wrong message.”

The idea for the book grew naturally with Coccia, Michele said. “We talked and recorded our thoughts for about a year,” especially during the pandemic, and it is “very intense and personal,” he admitted, because it led to a deep, almost cathartic reflection on his life. “I put my thoughts and affairs in order, I discovered my priorities, it was like going to therapy.”

The designer said the book took about three and a half years to complete and that he and Coccia came up with a way to create a dialogue between fashion and philosophy, deciding to “keep the two voices separate and italicize use for that of Emanuele. , interweaving the two on the page as in the Talmud or Bible manuscripts,” according to a joint foreword.

“It was fashion that brought me to philosophy,” said Michele, who repeatedly paid tribute to his life partner Giovanni Attili, a professor at Rome’s prestigious La Sapienza University, for helping him understand philosophy. Attili introduced Coccia to Michele, who said he was a self-taught philosophy buff. Early on, the designer thought that “philosophy was complicated, something that confuses your brain, suitable only for the enlightened few, but then I understood that it was close to life,” and he realized that it helped his own thoughts and to explain his views on fashion. “Much clearer.”

He even recalled the surprise of journalists and editors when the press release for his first collection, written by Attili, was not about the clothes, but about philosophy. “Some thought it was a snobbish pose, but I thought it was the most appropriate language,” and a language he did not want to give up.

The cover of 'La Vita delle Forme'.The cover of 'La Vita delle Forme'.

The cover of ‘La Vita delle Forme’.

Michele had never thought about writing a book and underlined that he did not really think about who would read it as it was “not an editorial idea.” But he admitted that it took some effort “to make those agreements with myself” to capture his thoughts.

Michele has been back in the spotlight since starting a new phase of his career last month as creative director of Valentino, succeeding Pierpaolo Piccioli. He was hesitant to give details of his new path, but did say that this is a “moment of reflection and absorption, of learning and a great development,” and he was clearly impressed by founder Valentino Garavani’s archival designs and expertise from the seamstresses and craftsmen of the famous couture house.

He also turned his attention to current events taking place outside the fashion industry, “when freedom seems to be in danger and books seem to be watching over us like sentinels. There is a fear of people reading and losing yourself in words is freedom,” he argued. Michele described himself as an ‘omnivore’ when it comes to choosing what to read, although he prefers history books and newspapers to novels.

“I’m a bit of a curious parker. I like to read about the lives of others, I am curious and often read excerpts from several books at the same time, and I write down my thoughts on notebooks and pieces of paper; my bag is always filled with pens and pencils. Writing on paper helps me think about things,” he said.

In the book he admits to being a collector of objects, ‘books, statues, skirts, chairs, trousers, cups, paintings: everything is alive, independent of its shapes, sizes, purpose and importance’, and one of the chapters is devoted to animism.

The topic of freedom was a recurring one, as he said he never wanted to give up being himself. “The hardest thing is to be who you are when others try to manipulate you into being different. Becoming who you are is about trying.”

He recalled that he was 43 in 2015 when then-president and CEO Marco Bizzarri offered him the top position at Gucci, succeeding Frida Giannini. He believed he would be fired after that first show, when he followed his instincts and paraded ruffled shirts on men with flowers in their hair. “I wasn’t thinking about the career, I am what I am and I just did what I thought was natural. I just wanted to talk about beauty. ”

He spoke of his surprise when people started talking about gender fluidity. “I had never heard of this term before, I just work and look at what I see around me, and at the time it seemed completely normal to me.”

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“I don’t invent anything, I observe,” he writes in the book, saying that “imagining a garment means imagining a person and building characters of a diverse universe.”

He revealed that as a child he braided his father’s hair, who showed him “the simple way to be free even at the age of 60 with braided hair,” and reminisced about walks with him outside in nature, “when he invited me to be still and listen to the wind blowing, which seemed to be the closest I came to God.” He also writes and spoke fondly about his mother and aunt, who were twins, and what led to the Twinsburg collection, his last for Gucci. “They taught me about non-exclusive love.”

Michele closed the book with additional details about Twinsburg and his other collections for Gucci, from the Spring 2022 lineup that paraded in Hollywood to Aria, celebrating the brand’s centenary, and the 2023 Cosmogonie cruise show in Apulia.

“La Vita delle Forme” is published by HarperCollins and translated into English, French and German. Michele will also present it in Milan on May 31 at Teatro Franco Parenti.

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