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Gucci designer Alessandro Michele's secret weapon is taking a laundry basket and art museum's worth of historical references—across centuries, cultures, and genres—and mixing them into something entirely new and unmistakably Gucci. At Wednesday's Spring Summer 2018 show, Michele had another secret weapon: @diet_prada, the must-follow Instagram account that calls out designer copycats, whom the brand engaged to post to their Instagram stories for the show. "@diet_prada Instagram account taking over @gucci insta stories!!" the account posted the morning of the show. "They invited us to analyze the collection and spot the references, and we are finding their transparency refreshing… this is the way to go!"
The collaboration is something of a surprise—in a world that can be precious about bruising sensitive egos, the account won't spare a designer for copying a silhouette, print, or even a clasp. But its collaboration with Gucci is particularly surprising because the account was one of the loudest critical voices of Gucci for its near-exact copy of a mutton-sleeve bomber jacket by the legendary tailor Dapper Dan in their Cruise Collection this past May. In the wake of the criticism, Gucci reached out to Dapper Dan to make amends and publicly recognize what they called an "homage"; the house is now providing support for the tailor to reopen his atelier.
According to the person behind the account, who is anonymous but works in the fashion industry, the takeover was Gucci's idea: "They were really interested in exploring and communicating what creativity is in the postmodern world," she said in an email interview. "This collection in particular was heavy on the references and they wanted to be transparent about that. Two years in, Alessandro has only grown more confident in expressing the full spectrum of his personal obsessions and design ethos. The takeover was an innovative collaboration in communicating that as well as our own message about the subtleties between inspiration, homage, and copying."
During the show, she noted the inspiration for a sweater embroidered with "NEVER MARRY A MITFORD" (an homage to the Duke of Devonshire's slogan sweaters at Chatsworth House, where an exhibition of the family's clothing, sponsored by Gucci, is currently on view); a checker-print blazer designed by Bob Mackie for Elton John in the '70s; an "obscure ancient Korean painting" that inspired the print on a mandarin collar jacket with frog closures; the SEGA font used for the neo-classical-meets-80s-gamer "GUCCY" clutch; and the hand-drawn map of a Roman poet's hometown, which was interpreted as a print for the runway floor, among other references:
"They gave us some key looks and vague inspirations to break down which was quite a challenge," said @diet_prada.
(She also posted a few references exclusively to her own account, like a fur coat look that seemed inspired by Margot Tenenbaum or perhaps a Diane Arbus photograph, and a Bugs Bunny vest that looked like a copy of a garment by, of all things, Warner Brothers: "Those particular ones may or may not have been their inspiration, but it sure looked like it to us," said @diet_prada. "We also like to posit things for discussion to among our community as well.")
Sometimes, when the fashion industry embraces its outsiders or critics, it backfires or feels too me-too, but @diet_prada's takeover made the show experience richer, demonstrating the breadth of Michele's inspirations and pointing out details that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Between this transparency and its support of Dapper Dan's business—his 24-7 Harlem atelier was both a hangout and a go-to fashion source for the likes of LL Cool J, Mike Tyson, and Salt-N-Pepa, and interest in his reworking of designer garment bags and staid logo-print garments into fantastical showpieces has grown into legend over the past two decades—Gucci appears invested in paying homage honorably in an age when fashion often engages in appropriation rather than respectful inspiration. It pushes viewers to go on a textured treasure hunt, in which the observer leaves with new knowledge of, say, the Duke of Devonshire's oddball sense of humor, or Korean painting, rather than let them remain passive consumers.
"Everything now is so highly documented and the speed of transmission is insane, so it's easy to be subconsciously influenced without even knowing it," said @diet_prada. "There can be an integrity if you're doing an homage from a place of love, in the way Alessandro does."