One of my favourite shows: Gucci AW'97. Read about the post-waif hedonism of Tom Ford's Studio 54-inspired vision, which I wrote about for AnOther
Today, when one thinks of Gucci, Alessandro Michele's signature eclecticism – ditsy florals, saccharine colours and girlish silhouettes – immediately spring to mind. This aesthetic is in total opposition to the house's output during the 90s, when it became synonymous with hedonistic glamour under the creative hand of Tom Ford. In fact, thanks to Ford's firm, high-octane directive, Gucci underwent a complete transformation and, following a slightly tumultuous period, by 1996 had been firmly restored to a position of utmost glory.
Without a doubt, the subtext of Tom Ford’s shows was, first and foremost, S-E-X. Having moved to New York just in time to experience the glitzy debauchery of Studio 54, Ford drew inspiration from nightlife for his Gucci fashion shows. The venue for A/W96 was dark, and the soundtrack sensual: Patti Jo’s Make Me Believe In You, The Fugees’ Killing Me Softly With His Song, Love Unlimited’s Under The Influence of Love and Dusty Springfield’s The Look of Love. Ford employed a spotlight on the runway, a move which Gianni Versace pioneered – but, while Versace’s shows were like pop-tastic parties, Ford’s was more of a grown-up soirée. “I wanted that girl to be in the spotlight,” said Ford. “I decided to kill the backlighting and put the clothes under a spotlight because I wanted to control the room. That sounds silly, but with a spotlight, you can’t see your friends across the aisle; you can’t wave at people and roll your eyes. You focus on the show.”
A photograph of Tom Ford’s black lacquered desk at Gucci shows an Andy Warhol portrait of Roy Halston staring out, somewhat aloof. It was under this watchful gaze that Ford designed the A/W96 collection, drawing from the designer’s use of jersey and the long, columnar dresses he made for Elsa Peretti. Just looking at the louche trouser suits, dramatic fur coats draped over the shoulders of models and the huge lapels and necklaces, it’s clear that the days of his Studio 54 youth were Ford’s biggest reference point. “I think everyone’s notion of beauty is formed – your sense of taste, most of your values and opinions are formed in your childhood – the first thing that you ever see that makes you think, ‘God, that’s beautiful’: Those things stick in your mind forever. So I will probably forever be stuck in the sixties and seventies,” he has said.
On another note, perhaps the best appointments Ford made at Gucci was that of Mario Testino and Carine Roitfeld, who together created groundbreaking advertising imagery for the brand. For this particular collection, Testino shot South African model Georgiana Grenville in a Rem Koolhaas interior, provocatively gazing out to the viewer in a silk shirt unbuttoned to the navel and flirting with her lover in one of the streamlined jersey gowns, her slicked-back hair matching the gold-tone buckle under the peephole. The images perfectly resonated Ford’s clean, polished vision of sensual sexuality and luxury.
When asked what he considered his legacy of Gucci, Ford answered: “I think I brought back hedonism, a certain kind of ostentatious fashion. I brought back a certain sexual glamour, which we probably hadn’t seen since the late seventies because of the way that AIDS altered fashion.” It was that approach that attracted swathes of actors and actresses to the brand, controversially exploding the idea that the brand was synonymous with sex and celebrity upon a generation of young consumers. Within a year of his debut, Gucci profits were up 90% and Ford eventually became more involved with Gucci Group management, designing for Yves Saint Laurent and steering the acquisitions of Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney.
Ford felt that this particular collection proved Gucci’s clothes were more than mere editorial-friendly adjuncts to a lauded accessories business. “The strategy from the beginning was: Make the brand appealing through fashion and then sell loafers,” he told fashion critic, Bridget Foley. “Madonna went out in our hip-huggers and our loafer sales went up. Now, here were pinstriped suits that started to sell, that everyone from thirty to seventy could wear. I am a commercial designer and I am proud of that; I have never wanted to be anything else. This gave other people an inkling of what I always knew – that we could really sell clothes.”
This article was originally commissioned and published by AnOthermag.com. All images courtesy of AnOther.