The salesclerks wear head-to-toe logo tracksuits ($2,300 for the jacket, $1,500 for the pants) at the new Gucci store on Wooster Street, a cultish cadre of caterers and nodders with the patience of saints gamely explaining the differences between the embroidered sneakers and showing couples in worn-in flip-flops 20 or 30 yowza-wowza sunglass options.
Here — at the rowdiest, most alluring and zeitgeist-specific new store to arrive in SoHo in years — the tug of war over what it means to create, or purchase, a luxury item is at full power.
Over the last few years, the idea of luxury has grown enough to include the stylish and unstylish, the well-to-do and the aspiring, the sincere and the ironic, the real and the fake. It is not an exclusive preserve. It is a reference point, an idea that’s malleable.
Credit Alessandro Michele, who took over design duties at Gucci in 2015 and quickly remade it as a fashion fun house, with understanding this intimately and profitably.
Look at Gucci’s SoHo shop: A couple of blocks over is the new Philipp Plein store, a Times Square interpretation of Madison Avenue; and a couple of blocks south, I saw the bootleggers out in full force, their fake Goyard and Gucci and Supreme standing tall against the hard spring breeze.
All of this is luxury now. That Mr. Michele knows that makes him the most provocative and devious of major-house designers. Unlike Demna Gvasalia, who is making luxury out of satire (or vice versa), Mr. Michele is the joke. He is in on it. He has all the cheat codes.
As a result, Gucci has become a litmus test for your own tackiness. It reimagines Ed Hardy through the lens of Tom Ford. It employs the strategies of 1990s hip-hop street wear and children’s clothing. If you wear it, are you sincere? Ironic? Post-ironic? Lil Uzi Vert? It may not get any more nouveau riche than this.
If there is a shark-jump moment for this era, it may be the recent photos of Slim Jxmmi of Rae Sremmurd wearing the $2,800 Gucci logo jumpsuit that looks, very simply, like baby pajamas. (All the photos were from the front, so I’m not sure if there was a rear flap.)
I didn’t see that piece at the SoHo store, but to be fair, the space is cavernous, not cluttered — it wants you to hang out as much as shop. To touch the raised Gs on the circular sofas. To wonder if it’s better to have an animal embroidered onto a denim jacket, or a sneaker, or a tote bag. To ponder a life made better with the purchase of a needlepoint cushion featuring the mopey mugs of Bosco and Orso, Mr. Michele’s Boston terriers ($1,650).
There are seats everywhere. In the back, movie-theater-style rows face huge screens displaying branded content. Fancy some Champagne?
When I went into the changing room, two flutes sat on the table, half empty. I understood. Trying on these clothes, considering a life shared with these clothes, requires some cranial massage. The colors and patterns are bright and erratic. They scream their arrival.
Some were beautiful. I tried on a pair of tan drawstring pants with blue piping ($980) that were the only pair in my size, but on hold for a well-known hip-hop-generation executive. I admired the athletic socks with the embroidered wolf ($120). The now-signature Gucci slippers were everywhere — maybe a raffia one ($870) for outdoors and the leather and faux fur house shoe ($790) for indoors?
I have just listed all the demure clothing items in the store. Beyond that, it’s a carnival. Fake Tevas ($740). A blue polyester mesh jacket that reads “MAGNETISMO” ($1,900). (Another $690 for the matching shorts.) A quite wonderful burgundy leather ankle boot with lizard trim and a wild dragon on the side ($2,100). A hot pink leather drawstring backpack ($1,980). A dragon-embroidered sport coat that Nudie would love ($4,200). (That last piece is one of the only tailored items in the store: Being rich is dressing down, not up.)
The women’s side is even more unruly. An orange and pink silk dress slit to mid-thigh and held together on a diagonal with encrusted bows ($9,500). A sequined tunic dress with floral shoulders ($8,700). A red macramé slip dress with an actual lavender slip beneath ($2,700).
In the rear of the store, there were a couple of ornate wardrobe racks piled thick with women’s active wear; I half expected Offset to saunter in and just wheel the damn thing out to a waiting Sprinter van.
For this intermittently beautiful chaos, there are endless marks. I’ve been to the store three times — it was never empty, or slow. It was filled with young women who look like Bebe Rexha or Park Bom, young men who look like Jho Low or Lil Skies. Also, rich but chill European dads. On one trip there was a tattoo-wrapped faux-hardcore guy wearing a pink “Fashion Sucks” dad cap. He was totally right!
I asked one of the clerks what was selling best, and he pointed to the Dapper Dan collection, which, for now, is exclusive to this location. (These pieces are different from the custom clothes available from his renewed atelier uptown.). They had radiance, a lesson in (relatively) tasteful ostentation, and a reminder that what Mr. Michele is doing to and with logos was already happening 30 years ago out of a Harlem storefront.
In one photo from that time, Dapper Dan stands outside his store; in the window is painted “Coming Soon Dapper Dan’s Ladies and Gentleman Boutique.” At the Gucci store, amid the luxe leather jackets in late-1980s styles and the entry-level T-shirts that simply advertised the collaboration was a T-shirt with these painted words faithfully rendered as they were on the actual window ($550).
For this, I am a mark. For this, I am the mark. That picture is imprinted on my brain. The confluence of hip-hop history and fashion iconography was too much to resist, and I bought it, even if Dapper Dan himself would never have used a cotton this filmy. I sat on one of the raised G chaises while I was being rung up, and wondered what it meant to be tacky.
Gucci 63 Wooster Street, 212-710-8980; gucci.com
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