Gucci present Gucci Cosmos, a cutting-edge exhibition of the House’s most iconic designs from its 102-year history. Having premiered in Shanghai in April, the itinerant global exhibition arrives in London in October, bringing its creative and immersive experience to 180 Studios at 180 The Strand. Celebrating the House’s deep ties to the UK’s capital, Gucci Cosmos takes visitors on a journey backwards and forwards through time, exploring the House’s history and its Florentine roots while writing a paean to its enduring creativity.
It might be said that the story of Gucci began in London in 1897 when a young Guccio Gucci took a job as a luggage porter and liftboy at the city’s exclusive The Savoy hotel. Carrying guests’ luggage through its famous revolving entrance doors and operating the lift up to the rooms and suites, the teenage Guccio encountered up close the tastes and lifestyle of the international elite, absorbing – as if by creative osmosis – new ideas, broader horizons, and more worldly cultural concerns. Inspired by these experiences, and with a new-found aspiration to make his name synonymous with the art of luggage making, Guccio returned to Florence and in 1921 founded his eponymous leather- goods house, followed by the first Gucci store on the city’s Via della Vigna Nuova. Gucci Cosmos explores how Guccio Gucci’s abiding codes and spirit have been brought to life in the House’s most iconic designs, and how these era-defining classics have forever inspired and been reinterpreted by its design visionaries. The exhibition showcases how this progressive belief in the power of creativity, anchored in the finest Italian craftsmanship and tradition, has seen Gucci not only mirror the times, but also define them – and in doing so, influence society and aesthetic tastes.
Conceived and designed by renowned British contemporary artist Es Devlin and curated by eminent Italian fashion theorist and critic Maria Luisa Frisa, this playful voyage through Gucci’s past, present and future is experienced across a series of ‘worlds’ that draw together treasures – many previously unseen – from the Gucci Archive, a living and breathing repository and working hub for the House’s creative teams, housed in the 15th-century Palazzo Settimanni in Florence. Each world traces a different aspect of Gucci, its unwavering principles since its foundation in 1921, and its ever-renewed inspirations and creativity – from the nascent ambitions of founder Guccio Gucci to the pioneering spirit of his sons Aldo and Rodolfo, and the wildly imaginative powers of more recent creative directors Tom Ford, Frida Giannini, Alessandro Michele, and now Sabato De Sarno.
Gucci Cosmos opens at 180 Studios, 180 The Strand, in London, on 11 October and runs until 31 December 2023.
The Ascending Room
To access the main exhibition spaces, visitors enter a large-scale reproduction of The Savoy’s famous red lift, the first electric elevator in London. Unveiled in 1889 and affectionately known as the Ascending Room by its astonished visitors, who weren’t used to standing this close together in an enclosed windowless box. This remarkable invention would have been constantly used by Guccio as he escorted guests and their luggage in the lift, allowing him to hone his sensitivity, to his guests and their stories, and most of all to their luggage. The Gucci Cosmos recreation, decorated in all red like the original, whisks small groups of visitors on an ascending son-et-lumière journey, telling the story of how those seven-minute journeys up and down the hotel would one day inspire the founding of an artisanal luggage atelier.
Visitors leave the 19th-century atmosphere of ‘The Ascending Room’ and return to the present day in a minimalist white space with a staircase that leads down to the first of Gucci Cosmos’s worlds, ‘Portals’. Continuing the story of the House’s founding father, Guccio Gucci, and the ongoing resonances for the House of his time at The Savoy, ‘Portals’ consists of three, all-white, interlocking circular installation spaces linked by a series of revolving doors – a nod to the hotel’s original entrance.
The spaces feature moving, circular conveyor belts, carrying examples of Gucci’s most exquisite luggage designs from across the decades. These include one of the earliest signature suitcases designed by Guccio in the late 1920s, cases and other travel accessories featuring a distinctive GG-print canvas that was created by Aldo Gucci in the 1960s as an homage to his father, and Disney-print luggage from the Epilogue collection, designed in 2020 by Alessandro Michele as a sophisticated pop-culture remix. With its constantly rotating display and soundtrack of ticking clocks and the names of different cities around the world, this principal ‘Portals’ space and its mirrored ceilings embody the interchange of design knowledge, ideas, and inspirations between the different Gucci creative directors. It highlights how each has tapped into the soul of the House in order to rework it and reveal its essential modernity. Both this principal space and the two smaller adjoining spaces also feature multimedia dioramas, each placed inside a different piece of Gucci luggage and inspired by cultural icons from Gucci’s past and present including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Princess Grace of Monaco, and Diana, Princess of Wales as well as an homage to la-dolce-vita-era Rome and its ability to captivate the international jet set and Hollywood stars alike. Leaving the ‘Portals’ world, visitors cross an area that illustrates the evolution of the double GG logo since its creation by Aldo Gucci as an homage to his father, Guccio.
Gucci has long drawn inspiration from the equestrian world, a connection celebrated in Gucci Cosmos’s ‘Zoetrope’ world. Its circular space is punctuated with immersive large-format screens presenting evocative video footage accompanied by a soundscape of galloping hooves and a voice that recites equestrian-inspired words to the equine rhythm.
Multiple archival pieces demonstrate how the House’s different equestrian icons have fired the imagination over time, such as the Horsebit, with its double ring and bar, which became a distinctive element of the House in 1953 when Aldo Gucci introduced it on the iconic loafer, and the signature green-red-green Web stripe, inspired by the strap that holds a horse’s saddle in place. Visitors follow the Horsebit hardware from the original loafer presented in a version from the early 1960s, a 1960s belt, a 1970s wool and suede dress, and a new platform loafer worn with an all-over Web precious leather jacket and culottes from Sabato De Sarno’s debut Spring Summer 2024 collection. ‘Zoetrope’ also demonstrates how the House’s creative directors have playfully subverted equestrianism’s traditional aristocratic practices, with examples including a Tom Ford-designed riding crop and Horsebit black leather corset by Alessandro Michele.
‘Eden’, the next world in Gucci Cosmos, brings to life the tale of Flora, an exquisite and delicately naturalistic image of plants and fauna from 1966. Commissioned by Rodolfo Gucci from acclaimed Italian artist and illustrator Vittorio Accornero de Testa for a silk scarf created for Princess Grace of Monaco, it became the leitmotif for Gucci’s 1981 ready-to-wear collection, presented in the Sala Bianca, in Florence’s Palazzo Pitti and has since ignited the artistry of Tom Ford, Frida Giannini, Alessandro Michele and Sabato De Sarno. Within the light- and mirror-filled circular space of ‘Eden’, with its feeling of being inside the vaults of a Florentine palazzo, Gucci’s ongoing relationship to the diversity and beauty of the biosphere is symbolized in an installation of larger-than-life white sculptures of flowers and insects featured in Accornero’s design. These are suspended above key archive pieces that reveal Flora’s constant ability to inspire. Embodying how the elegant pattern has been used, reused, and remixed are a gloriously hypnotic Flora-print silk minidress from 1969, a 2008 Frida Giannini floral print dress created for a Gucci Flora fragrance campaign, Alessandro Michele’s signature embroidered shearling-lined denim jacket with its ‘L’Aveugle Par Amour’ motto, a floral print ‘Jackie’ bag from Spring Summer 1999 by Tom Ford, and a series of silk scarves and fabric bags. The visitor is accompanied through ‘Eden’ by a soundtrack of brushstrokes, water drops, and a voice reciting all the different colours featured in the Flora design, as if it were Accornero talking to himself as he painted.
Leaving ‘Eden’, visitors enter ‘Two’, a stunning space in which a pair of monumental 10-metre-tall white statues hover just above the floor. Lying on their sides, like guards at a long-lost ancient temple, the statues’ ‘blank canvases’ feature a mesmerizing loop of projections of images of men’s and women’s suits from Gucci’s past and present, which symbolize the House’s trailblazing belief in unisex fashion and its ability to shift societal ideas and behaviour. These include the celebrated red velvet suit created for both men and women by Tom Ford in 1996; a striking Frida Giannini-designed checked suit with cinched waist; and designs by Alessandro Michele, such as his sparklingly floral unisex versions from 2016 and one from his ‘Twinsburg’ collection, shown in 2022. Accompanying the constant evolution of clothing on the statues, the rest of the room is projected with skyscapes suggesting the infinite, while the soundtrack features a poem written and recited by Es Devlin exploring the concept of our bodies as multitudes.