Three visionary designers discuss getting back to work, finding inspiration in an age of uncertainty, and what lies ahead.
Creative Director, Gucci
HARPER’S BAZAAR: Tell us about the place in your home where you were photographed. Why is it important or significant to you?
ALESSANDRO MICHELE: It is in my living room, where I spend most of my time these long days, sitting on my couch, my mind always filled with thoughts. My dogs keep me company—and my table as well, where I keep all the objects I need for my work. This room is somehow the heart of my house, a dear and loving place, overflowing with life. It wraps me up and cherishes me; it lets me travel in my mind. It is a living room, yeah, but it’s like a kid’s playroom. There are the things I collect that mean something to me, and there is an overabundance of signs and presences that take me to faraway places. When we took this picture, I had just taken an 18th-century magnifying glass from the bathroom. It’s a lab object, quite mysterious. I brought the lens close to my eye to see what would happen. What happens in 2020 if I get closer and look at the things around me through such an object? This picture is a good symbol of what I am: always poised between the present, the necessity to be there, and the lure to see through it. After all, my home is a shelter inhabited by divinatory objects that become the means through which I can shift somewhere else—objects that keep me company, that question me, that talk to each other. They aren’t necessary for my material or physical existence, but they are necessary for my brain. They talk to me at the most unexpected moments. The house is a very important place for me. It is where I recover, produce, travel. It’s a place where I travel a lot, even if I stay still.
HB: Ritual was a huge inspiration behind your Fall 2020 show. I thought there was an incredible sense of ceremony to the performance, with the hair and makeup teams and the model dressers working their magic onstage. Where did that idea come from?
AM: The performance I created for that occasion was the result of something I had been considering for quite a long time. I always question myself about the things I do and the mean- ing they convey. The show and the representation of fashion play a very important role for me. This time, I wanted to give a very good look at fashion, and I felt the more and more persistent need to vivisect the powerful ritual of the show. I tried to interrogate the urgency it transmits that pushes us to take part as we might in a religious act or an ancient ritual. I felt like showing the inside mechanisms but also the vibrant emotions that are usually inaccessible from the outside. The community of disciples who, like me, chose to work in fashion, had to take center stage, and I thought that was possible by reversing perspective. It was a very powerful moment for me. It made me feel a deep connection with the reasons behind a choice through the celebration of such a strong ritual. The staging is something ancestral, a desire of self-investigation. The show is not about clothes going back and forth; it’s a story, a powerful circular movement that creates a mysterious narrative of gazes and things that we tell each other. I am fascinated by rituals. Nature is ritual, where the same things happen cyclically. The ritual is something that walks with every human being. That’s why it fascinates me.
Humanity needs to dream. We are dream hunters… I believe fashion is an essential dream.
— Alessandro Michele —
HB: In retrospect, that show feels oddly prophetic: There were elements of handcraft, the handmade, and the idea of the collective experience of a fashion show, but also an incredibly up-to-date engagement with the digital age.
AM: The show was an in-between moment for two important institutions: handcraft, the ancient skill and wisdom, its cross-references, its echoes; and the devouring present that urges us and asks us to be there and to communicate something. I’ve always felt the need to get inside the symbolism and the rituality—but not only that, to show what’s inside the very heart of the ritual. The circular element and the cameras gave people a chance to get inside the show; the idea was a ritual under the microscope, a ritual that one could look at in detail, from everywhere. This show was a bridge, a praise, a scientific treatise, a prayer to the big ritual.
HB: How important are shows to you as a means of expressing your ideas?
AM: The show we were used to, in the way it developed and consolidated, has always represented an incredibly powerful means of communication, no doubt on that. And, as such, I’ve always tried to live it to its full potential. Every single time I thought about it with the precision of love. Each time I transformed it to better answer my need to tell. But this need, this primordial urgency to tell stories, today can find other spaces, other paths. It can also radically reinvent itself. What we are living is a gym for the imagination; the occasion to prefigure new forms of communication. I know I’ll always find a way to satisfy my need to say and tell something to others. This need is the miracle we possess.
HB: How crucial is the idea of dreaming to fashion?
AM: Humanity needs to dream. We are dream hunters. We look for the dream through poetry, films, encounters, tales—all the means that let us express ourselves. Fashion is one of those means. The dream creates multiple lives, and it is necessary to remove death. It is something that takes us somewhere else. Fashion is a ready dream that talks to pieces of other dreams. When I wear something, I begin to dream and get in touch with other pieces of the dream—the colors, the shapes, are emotional transfers. I believe fashion is an essential dream.
Creative Director, Stella McCartney
HARPER’S BAZAAR: Where was this picture taken?
STELLA McCARTNEY: At home in Worcestershire. I’m spending a lot of time in nature, and I’ve seen the season of spring happen before my eyes. I find it so inspiring. It’s such a weird moment for this to have happened, because spring is the moment of birth and newness, and I’m in it. It’s really quite breathtaking.
HB: Your Fall 2020 collection expounded on the ethical concerns that have been a linchpin of your brand since its founding. Do you feel our current world situation gives those ideas—and ideals—a new importance or prominence?
SM: For the first time in history, we can truly measure the damage done by human activity. Our children and our children’s children are going to be having geography lessons on this impact in years to come. I hope that being forced to stop will allow us to be kinder and more mindful so that nature can reclaim its rightful place at the center of our lives. And I truly hope that these findings will cause a shift in consumer behavior. I’ll be happy with even a slight shift because I know that this isn’t going to happen overnight.
I hope that being forced to stop will allow us to be kinder and more mindful so that nature can reclaim it’s rightful place at the center of our lives.
— Stella McCartney —
HB: How do you feel fashion will be transformed by this pandemic? What do you hope will change? And what will remain the same?
SM: This situation has allowed us all to take a minute and reflect on how we work, and for me it’s given me the time to really think strategically, which has been a precious gift. But you know, I think we all know that we’re creatures of habit. I don’t know if this situation will cause us to slow down necessarily, but I would like to think that we might stay in this moment for longer than expected. When you work in a sustainable way like we do at Stella McCartney, we already have all of our materials so many years in advance because that’s part of being a sustainable brand. I’m sure I work with a lot of the same mills that other luxury brands do, but I work with them so far in advance because I want to use my materials more efficiently. I want to have them transported more efficiently, to be grown with fewer pesticides. It takes longer. For example, I work with a sustainable viscose. More than 150 million trees are cut down every year to make fabrics like viscose. It took us three years to find a sustainably managed forest in Sweden where we could replant the trees, so that is a much longer process.
Even before this situation happened, I was thinking about my Spring 2021 collection and how to not order any new fabrics. What have we got left over that we can repurpose? My mind is always trying to rethink and disrupt the norm, so I hope one transformation we see is that people come back and they consider timelines, they respect that things can take a little longer if you want to do things better—that you can think in advance, that it will have a better impact, and remove this sort of disposable throwaway mentality. I hope we can reconsider that we can have a little more consciousness. I think that would be a great gift to everybody—and to the planet as well.
Creative Director, Valentino
HARPER’S BAZAAR: Where was this picture taken?
PIERPAOLO PICCIOLI: In the Valentino Couture atelier in Rome. At the moment the ateliers are empty. Next week they’re going to start up again—they will have people. So for me, it’s a sign of hope. For me, spaces are not made by walls; they are made by people. I can feel the people. It’s like a welcome for all the people to come back and start again.
HB: The idea of humanity, especially through craft, is incredibly important to what you do. What does that kind of handcraft represent now, at a time when people cannot be together?
PP: I think we all miss people in this lockdown. We understand that we don’t really need stuff. Embraces, we need—that physical approach with people. That’s why it’s very important to have that human approach in a company, in a presentation, everything. Because for me—always, but now more than ever—the human has to be at the center of the process. In these past decades, we’ve talked a lot about numbers—the first, the best. And in a way, this has created a kind of competition that I don’t think you really need. You can forget about the creativity and the humanity because it’s all about money and marketing. And that’s not what fashion is for. Fashion is about dreaming, inspiring. It has to be about creativity, humanity.
If you feel something, I think you have to follow it. Because you can deliver a beautiful dress, you can deliver beauty, but you can also deliver values—your own values.
— Pierpaolo Piccioli —
HB: I wanted to ask you about your new campaign, #ValentinoEmpathy. What inspired it?
PP: It came out of this moment, because of the limits of the moment. We were starting to think about the Fall 2020 campaign in March, after the show, and of course we were not allowed to think in the usual way. Empathy creates that sort of community of people who share the same values, ideas, ways of thinking. So I asked some friends and people who represent something for me and who stand for the same values—the idea of equality, no boundaries—to be shot by someone who has been living with them in this moment, to create an intimacy in the pictures. They include Adut Akech, Mariacarla Boscono, Frances McDormand, Rossy de Palma, Gwyneth Paltrow, Janet Mock, Rula Jebreal, and Ghali. And the most important thing is that these people have donated these images, and we will be able to donate €1 million to the Lazzaro Spallanzani hospital in Rome. I’m very happy because everyone has been very enthusiastic about their involvement in the campaign. Valentino has always been known as a lifestyle brand. Now I want it to become like a community brand. When you do this kind of project, you understand that it’s real, the idea of community. It’s not just something to talk about. It’s turning a brand from the idea of exclusivity to the idea of inclusivity.
HB: At that show you said, “Fashion has to record and embrace big changes in the world.” How do you anticipate doing that in light of this pandemic?
PP: I feel we have to be maybe more radical, more sharp—no compromises. We have to be more direct. We have to follow our intuition and ideas, even if they’re not very convenient. If you feel something, I think you have to follow it. Because you can deliver a beautiful dress, you can deliver beauty, but you can also deliver values—your own values.
HB: Why do you feel fashion is important in times like these? What role does it have to play in people’s lives?
PP: I was thinking sometime ago of the Middle Ages in Italy. Now, the Middle Ages was a very dark moment. But after that darkness, there came humanism and the great beauty of the Renaissance. I feel now everything is faster. The digital revolution is like the print revolution. We can connect with everyone through this flat screen, but we are all connected in a way. And we need that moment of humanism now to arrive at a renaissance and the beauty of it. That’s what I feel right now. I’m very hopeful for the future. I feel this mood to start anew, to rethink. Because we understand that we don’t have to follow the old rules, so it’s important to be faithful to our ideas and our values more than anything else. And the people, of course. I miss my team. I miss embracing them. That’s why I really want to come back, to start again, but with a new energy—even more than before. Because it’s a great opportunity.