Unbeknown to many, the story of the Italian house of Gucci, began in London. In 1897, a teenage Guccio Gucci applied for a job at the The Savoy Hotel, and was hired to man the elevator. For the seven minutes it would take to accompany guests to the top floor, he would observe them, their habits, their clothes, and their luggage. Upon returning to Italy, he decided to dedicate himself to the tastes of the international elite. In Florence, in 1921, he founded his eponymous leathergoods house. What would unfurl were era-defining classics, grounded in the finest Italian craftsmanship and tradition that defined but also influenced society and aesthetic tastes.
The exhibition is conceived and designed by British contemporary artist Es Devlin and curated by Italian fashion theorist and critic Maria Luisa Frisa. It is presented not in chronological order, but through themes and ideas. From Gucci, to his sons Aldo and Rodolfo, and the creative directors Tom Ford, Frida Giannini, Alessandro Michele, and most recently Sabato De Sarno. “As a creative endeavor and expression of the times, the House and its history over the past century can be mapped through an ability to evolve and, more broadly, to expand on the mutability of our own consciousness and ability to make cognitive shifts,” says Es Devlin. “Rather like a garment itself that is able to be changed and re-tailored, like a shed skin that constantly renews itself.”
Of shifting the exhibition to London, and therefore adapting it to the new space, Frisa comments, “It is a challenge to work on an exhibition that evolves based on different spaces and the atmosphere of the cities that host it. This therefore demands reflection on the special connection between London and fashion, to reconfigure the relationship between the elements and the selection of objects.”
While each thematic room offers new, ethereal worlds to discover, “Archivio” brings gravitas. A mirrored ceiling creates the feeling of infinity while visitors explore a space reminiscent of the Gucci Archive in Florence. Walls are lined with a multitude of cabinets and drawers featuring iconic Gucci bags like the Bamboo 1947, the Jackie 1961, the Horsebit 1955, the Gucci Diana, and the Dionysus. Alongside the cabinets are drawers containing reproductions of illustrations by Vittorio Accornero de Testa, artisans’ sketchbooks and technical drawings, and vintage advertising campaigns. Meanwhile, other rooms like Zoetrope explores Gucci’s relationship with the equestrian world through a circular space punctuated with immersive large-format screens presenting video footage of a galloping horse. The Cabinet of Wonders presents a rotating cabinet of curiosities. Three meters high, this stunning monolithic cube covered in deep red lacquer is filled with drawers and compartments that mechanically slide in and out to showcase objects like a Tom Ford-era electric guitar, looks worn by Harry Styles from Coachella, an outfit worn on the Met Gala red carpet by objects from the early 1970s inspired by the English countryside, and a Tom Ford-era electric guitar. The room also features a look worn by Harry Styles from Coachella 2022, an outfit worn on the Met Gala red carpet by Sinéad Burke, and a lamé bomber inspired by a stage look worn by Sir Elton John reinterpreted by Alessandro Michele for his Spring Summer 2018 collection.
The exhibition rounds out with “Gucci Ancora,” inspired by creative director Sabato De Sarno’s debut collection for Gucci. Decorated in the new signature Rosso Ancora shade of red, it features personal memories and phrases in both Italian and English, alongside an evocative video and sound installation featuring the voices of Es Devlin and Sabato De Sarno. “Ancora” is an Italian word that means “also now, again, one more time,” an apt call to experience the House of Gucci again and again.
Gucci Cosmos, London, is on until December 31, 2023.