Alessandro Michele’s moment in Provence
After a spectacle that included punk rockers, Roman noblewomen, 19th century widows, bondage babes and saucy Madonnas all finished with Michele’s signature elaborate embroidery, punchy graphics and gender blending mash-up, the Gucci creative director was in an ebullient mood. He greeted friends and fans in the garden of Maja Hoffmann, heir to the Roche pharmaceutical fortune, who owns a massive Mas, or farmhouse, at the back of Alyscamps.
“Maja is an amazing woman. She has done so much to help Arles and its festival. Not just money, but so much time and so much support for artists and photographers. She is incredible. And now she is building an amazing new monument,” said Michele, nodding north to the silvery, 50-meter-high tower by architect Frank Gehry being built as the core of Hoffmann’s Luma Foundation. It’s smack in the middle of a disused railway yard in which many exhibitions are staged during the Rencontres d’Arles, the world’s most important annual photography festival.
Why did he want to show in Arles?
“I love this region of France. I only go to places that I like, and that are part of my old personal story; my own history. And Provence is like a second home. It became part of Rome 2,000 years ago and I am a Roman. It’s a place full of energy. Plus it is like my way of looking at beauty: layers and layers and layers of things from the past mixed with the contemporary. And, I believe, there is something powerful about a cemetery. Visiting cemeteries is something that you do when you are young. It’s a faith connection.”
The show featured 115 looks; a dirt path runway that was ignited by fire; enough dry ice and smoke for three Frankenstein movies; elaborate security; thousands of huge church candles and intense hair and makeup preparation. Truly monumental, just like the location.
Preceded by several days of intense rain; how difficult was it to stage?
“It was very, very complicated. This was a very big machine to organize. And I was worried stiff about the chance of rain. I have been coming years for many years to Provence and this is the first year the rain has been such a disaster. You can see whole fields of crops destroyed. Late Tuesday night, when I actually walked out of the Alyscamps alone, I looked up and saw the almost full moon, and I prayed to it. I prayed that the gods would be kind. ‘Please, I really need the wind to be calm and that the rain stays away tomorrow.’ What would we have done if there had been a downpour? I don’t know, we had no Plan B! So, I’m very tired tonight. It’s been over a week I’ve been here and tonight I can barely stand."
What were the layers you wanted to mix together?
“I wanted to achieve the meeting of sacred images with pagan emotions; to include everything from Dante to Van Gogh. It’s a unique place; that’s why all the artists have been coming to Arles for a very long time. It’s full of color and energy. I love this place. It is a piece of my heart."
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