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Becoming Animal, Becoming Gucci

Oct 26 2019

How Alessandro Michele’s Embroidered Zoo is the Blueprint for a Post-Rational Era

In his essay “The Animal That Therefore I Am,” the French poststructuralist Jacques Derrida steps out of the shower and sees his cat staring blankly at his bare cock. Dripping wet, with this feline gaze unflinching, the philosopher feels undone. Derrida recounts how—with his “sex exposed”—he felt shame in front of his pet, and then the shame of having felt ashamed for just being naked. “Naked without knowing it,” Derrida reflects, “animals would not, in truth, be naked.”

Creative Director Alessandro Michele’s use of animals in Gucci’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection—leaping panthers, coiling snakes, bejewelled insects—feels like a certain realization of a primal fantasy. A fantasy to be unthinking, to do away with human modesty. Like Derrida’s cat, animals play a role in rationality. They are not just a foil to our rational minds. They can make us question whether our rationality is rational at all. Since reason as we’ve known it has crumpled with the election of a meme as President of the United States and the normalization of fake news, we are feeling powerless in the face of unreason’s reign. We, too, have come undone. And we, too, have something to learn from becoming-animal.

Through fantasy we can orchestrate a subtle return to nature and expand our understanding of reason, unreason, and the push and pull between. The enlightenment thinking that has shepherded much of political thought for centuries can no longer offer a compass for the world we find ourselves in. Alessandro’s Gucci universe—an opulent zoology whose escapism we need right now—plays on this fantasy of holding fast to the irrational. His tiger sweaters and serpent totes are more lasting than a kitty cat filter and more ironic. Hugging paradox, we dress ourselves in clothing as a way to feel wild and bare.

During Milan Fashion Week, Gucci wrote in its show notes of magic, distortion, signs, and stories “steeped in wonder” that “don’t mimetically represent reality.” We are living in a post-rational moment where accuracy and mimesis are no longer privileged, but fantasy needs to be. We don’t become a panther by wearing one across our chests, but we signal our desire to be sleeker, faster, and more powerful than we are. Who wouldn’t want to be grounded and silent like a snake, to flit from feast to feast like the fly, to be graceful and predatory in equal measure like the lion? If that which divides humans from the animal kingdom is no longer sound, why not cultivate the porousness of that boundary?

The wish to cosplay as animals—through the ephemeral filters of Snapchat for instance—is understandably compelling. To claim a spirit animal is to indulge a fantasy of embodying a form freer than our own. To perch on all fours and curl your tailbone down in the first breath of cat-cow pose is to find a new center of gravity. Feeling comes first, thinking comes second.

“A becoming-animal,” Deleuze and Guattari say, “always involves a pack, a band, a population, a peopling, in short a multiplicity.” Gucci has made tactile a way of becoming-animal that taps into the inherent sociality of this theory but doesn’t posture as radical intervention. No, these are textiles woven and printed with whims and stylized creatures. They will not change the new political order. But maybe Alessandro’s animals can spellbind you into believing you are, in truth, naked without knowing it.