Fashion’s Resort Renaissance

At Chanel and Gucci, the ancient influences modern times

Thanks to Gucci, the Renaissance is on everyone’s mind. As the Florence-born fashion house took a trip to its origins yesterday for its Resort 2018 show, it’s worth questioning why antiquity was on Alessandro Michele’s mind this season. It’s especially interesting considering Chanel’s ode to Ancient Greece in its Resort 2018 collection was a direct reference to the genesis of Western culture. Fashion is inherently an industry of forward-thinkers, but what if the chaos of our current times pushed us to think ancient?

A core belief of the Renaissance movement was that classical thought and aesthetics were a way to restore modern times (sound familiar?). Defenders of ancient thought looked back to Greece and Rome as a guide to make sense of the fall of the Roman Empire. Unconsciously or not, Michele and Lagerfeld proposed a similar perspective as the world shifts its zeitgeist.

At Chanel, Lagerfeld insisted that the collection had nothing to do with our time. “Reality is of no interest to me,” he said in the show notes. Yet, reality is interested in Lagerfeld and its current chaotic nature might have influenced the designer to take us all back to a time of great philosophic and artistic production—think Sophocles’ Antigone. After all, Coco Chanel designed costumes for Jean Cocteau’s production of this classic play in 1922.

As for Gucci, Michele told the New York Times that he was indeed thinking about antiquity, especially ancient Greece and Rome. “The only era to compare to those epochs, I think, was the Renaissance,” said Michele. Even the location of the show forced us to think back to the 14th century where art started shifting from its religious and decorative purpose to an intellectual pursuit.

Palazzo Pitti, where the Gucci show was held, was a property of the Medici family, a dynasty of bankers and merchants who supported Renaissance artists like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Gucci’s nod to the Medicis was fueled by more than just geography. The Medicis signified power in the Renaissance era, a time when financing artists was synonymous to social and economic progress (take notes, Donald!). The brand is no stranger to this ethos, as it has commissioned works from artists like Petra Collins and Ignasi Monreal for its latest social media campaigns.

While Chanel’s reinterpretation of Ancient Greece was quite literal (gladiator sandals and Greek tunics included), Gucci’s invitation to travel back in time was not. Michele adhered to Renaissance thought by pushing his audience to reflect on the past (not only Gucci’s, but our collective memory) in order to move forward.

It’s obvious by looking at the collection (ie. the Guccification of fashion, Guccy logos, and collaborations with digital artists) that Michele’s Renaissance has nothing to do with regression, but rather pokes at it for inspiration to make sense of political and social chaos.

Chanel, on the other hand, chose to focus on beauty, as Lagerfeld stated in his show notes that there has never been a more beautiful representation of women than in Ancient Greece. In that sense, Lagerfeld is also a true Renaissance man, defending antiquity as the source of all beauty.

It might seem like just another attempt to capitalize on nostalgia. After all, the last few seasons have done so with ’90s style and now, even the aesthetics of the early aughts. But Chanel’s and Gucci’s reimagination of Renaissance thought is not nostalgia, but an engine to push forward. It’s about forcing us to think about fashion as a form of intellectual expression and imagination that goes beyond commerce to say something about the world we live in.  And what’s more Renaissance than that?

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