The fashion designer Alessandro Michele, having cancelled Gucci’s catwalk shows during the pandemic, needed a way to showcase his latest collection. The director Gus Van Sant, faced with a film world placed on pause by the closure of cinemas worldwide, needed a new creative project.
Like so many others in 2020, the two found that lockdown life revolves around small screen entertainment. Instead of being paraded along a catwalk, the new Gucci collection is being revealed via a seven-part miniseries for which Van Sant, whose career includes two best director nominations at the Academy Awards, for Good Will Hunting and Milk, travelled to Rome for a 20-day shoot.
The seven episodes of Ouverture of Something That Never Ended follow the eccentric and flamboyantly dressed Silvia, played by Silvia Calderoni, through an esoteric daily routine including a trip to the post office, a shopping spree in a vintage store in Rome and encounters with the pop star Harry Styles and the writer and philosopher Paul B Preciado, who make cameo appearances.
“I want to set clothes free,” said Michele during a Zoom press conference. “I don’t want fashion to be imprisoned in shops any more.”
The first episode features Calderoni performing a series of morning stretches in front of the television dressed in an elaborate black lace pyjama set, before changing into a floor-length gown in pastel-toned rainbow stripes and a coordinating pink sequinned bonnet.
The flamboyant wardrobe is a radical departure from the understated aesthetic of previous Van Sant films such as My Own Private Idaho, in which Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix wore simple hoodies and leather jackets. For his 2003 film Elephant, Van Sant asked the cast to wear their own clothes.
“GucciFest” replaces fashion week with the format of a virtual film festival, hosted on YouTube. Instead of embossed show invitations, fashion editors were sent the lanyards and printed programmes in branded cotton tote bags.
Each episode of the mini-series will be bookended by advert-length mini-films showcasing the work of up-and-coming designers. In this way Michele hopes to mirror the “halo effect” of fashion week, during which the pulling power of major brands such as Gucci brings a captive audience who are then introduced to the work of independent creatives.
The pandemic has seen film “sucked into the computer screen”, said Van Sant at the press conference. While other fashion brands have diversified from catwalk shows into filmed storytelling – Luca Guadagnino, acclaimed for Call Me By Your Name, has directed a biopic of the shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo which debuted at the Venice film festival recently – Gucci’s collaboration with Van Sant is notable for the episodic format, which Netflix and other streaming services have made increasingly central to today’s culture.
The Van Sant mini-series continues Gucci’s drive to insert itself into the cultural conversation about gender and identity. Gucci does not distinguish between menswear and womenswear on the catwalk, and the characters in the film deliberately evade being signposted as being either male or female. Calderoni is highly regarded for her gender-blurring performance art in off-Broadway productions such as 2016’s MDLSX – the name alludes to Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex.