Outside a North London fish and chip shop, a familiar figure stands in a three-piece checked suit. It takes a second glance to identify Harry Styles, who suddenly looks all grown-up and elegant. The occasion is a shoot for Gucci, which has made Styles the face for this season’s men’s tailoring collection. The choice demonstrates the House’s eclectic approach – Harry Styles joins actor Tom Hiddleston and Harlem tailor to the hip hop community of the 1980s, Dapper Dan, in the roster of tailoring representatives.
The casting suggests that it is not age, profession, nationality, nor level of fame that Gucci has in mind, but instead a much broader idea of the type of man that it sees best promoting its sartorial wares. There is a parallel here to the promotion of its women’s collection, where Hollywood veterans Tippi Hedren and Faye Dunaway, as well as British theatrical royalty in the form of Vanessa Redgrave, have appeared in ads, alongside a tribe of younger actors and musicians.
The approach is refreshing, suggesting that you don’t have to be young, or conform to a particular look or body type to wear Gucci. This is a brand for all of us. The sticking point, of course, is that much of the product, especially where menswear is concerned, can seem dauntingly dramatic, or, as the fashionistas say, ‘directional’. Certainly, Gucci’s current reputation as fashion’s most talked-about turnaround – three-and-a-half years ago it was seen as a sleeping luxury giant that needed reinvigorating – means that for many, and for men in particular, the image is one of bohemian, decorative clothing and accessories, perhaps more akin to costume than something you could wear to the office, or even a regular night out. Much of Gucci’s activity reinforces this. A catwalk show in the Provençal city of Arles for the Cruise 2019 collection, for example, was staged in a Roman necropolis, complete with a soundtrack of chiming bells. The models – male and female – were layered-up in highly decorated garments and accompanying jewellery and accessories that made them look like characters in a Renaissance-meets-Gothic drama. And as for the autumn/ winter 2018 show, if we tell you that some models carried imitations of their own heads, like decapitated St John the Baptists, you’ll understand why many might think Gucci is simply too out-there to consider.
Which would be a shame. Because while Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele may well be a romantic visionary, he is also acutely aware of the back story to this Italian house, which is as much about quality, craftsmanship, artisanal skill and functional, practical design, as it is show-stopping statement making.
Founder Guccio Gucci first went into the business of making luxury goods as a result of a stint as a luggage porter at The Savoy hotel. His experience of handling elegant bags and cases is what prompted him to open his own store in Florence in 1921. From then, the Gucci story is one of expansion into other areas, including men’s tailoring, where the House has a tradition of making beautifully elegant and stylish pieces.
Sure, there is always something Gucci about a jacket, trousers or coat bearing this label. But this need not be an overtly “fashionable” piece of decoration or styling. Instead, much of the classic tailoring collection wears its design not so much on its sleeve, as on its lining, or in its details, meaning that the wearer is in the know, but the observer sees something that is remarkable because of its cut and fabric, rather than because it advertises its fashionability.
Fabric is key here, as a plain suit can be much more characterful with a subtle stripe, pattern or weave, and Gucci specialises in this. And when it comes to cut, the House has some six different silhouettes to choose from; each has its own shape and configuration of pockets, and, in the case of jackets, vents, and trousers, pleats. Once you’ve found your favourite, it becomes easy to explore other versions in the same family.
There are several champions of Gucci’s tailoring at the moment, and you see them perhaps most often pictured on the red carpet. While this inevitably gives an impression of what a label does when it’s creating the men’s equivalent of a woman’s gown – dressy pieces for dressy occasions – there is nevertheless a clue here as to the rest of its offer. Gucci’s occasional wear, as worn by the likes of Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling, is simple and contemporary, relying on fabric and silhouette for its effect.
The equivalent for day wear is the dark suit, sharply tailored and perfect with an open-collared shirt, or shirt and tie. Here you need look no further than the CEO and president of the House, Marco Bizzarri, a man in his early fifties who, without fail, looks professional and dapper in his Gucci wardrobe. Arguably one of the world’s most scrutinised businessmen of the moment, Bizzarri shows how Gucci can work in the boardroom and at professional functions just as well as on the catwalk. As does young Harry Styles, who looks a whole lot more mature on account of his Gucci tailoring, without losing any of his boyish charm.