The social media tributes began rolling in as soon as the news of Alessandro Michele’s exit from Gucci hit the Internet last month. “He made magic!” Tracee Ellis Ross posted on Instagram alongside a video of her peacocking on the LACMA Art + Film Gala red carpet in shimmering Michele-designed plumage; Harry Styles’s longtime stylist, Harry Lambert, posted a picture of a Gucci floral suit the singer wore to the 2015 American Music Awards—the first of many (many) Styles-Michele collaborations—with a caption that read, “where it all began.” But in all the accolades for the Gucci creative director, who was plucked from relative obscurity to lead one of fashion’s most talked-about turnarounds, not nearly enough has been said about Michele’s contributions to the beauty world. If his magpie creations and embrace of an eclectic eccentricity that blurred gender norms and timestamps rocked the fashion world, it forever altered the way makeup and fragrance are bought, sold, and enjoyed.
It’s worth a reminder that Gucci Beauty existed before Michele took the reins at the house seven years ago. Allow me to take you back—way back—to 2014. Kim married Kanye, Gwyneth got consciously uncoupled, and Frida Giannini was in the final year of her creative director tenure at Gucci. After establishing her vision for the house, which she described as “an intelligent kind of glamor” at her debut show in 2005, the one-time accessories designer introduced a full range of makeup—lipsticks, mascara, face powder—that nodded to the same aesthetic. It was sleek and sexy courtesy of glossy black Fabien Baron–designed packaging that was tipped in gold and embossed with the house’s interlocking G logo, a nod to what its press release described as “powerful femininity with a modern edge.” I vividly remember when it came out; it’s blue-red Audacious Color-Intense Lipstick in Iconic Red, was, well iconic, made all the more so by ultra glamorous, Mert + Marcus lensed images of the collection’s first—and only—face: Charlotte Casiraghi. But the dawn of that original Gucci Beauty was over before it ever began; as Michele’s vision of the house took hold in 2015, Giannini’s disappeared, both on the racks of department stores and at their beauty counters.
The products weren’t immediately removed from shelves, of course. Gucci’s cosmetics are produced through a licensing agreement, first with P&G Prestige and now with Coty. Licensing contracts typically have a start and end date, so once that initial contract ended, the products were not replenished. That process was complete by May 2019 when Michele, following his resounding runway success, turned his vintage-loving attention to lipstick. His Gucci Beauty debut featured three lipstick launches in 58 delightful shades—Rouge à Lèvres Satin (with a satin finish), Rouge à Lèvres Voile (with a sheer finish), and Baume à Lèvres (a silky smooth lip balm with a translucent finish). But instead of Charlotte Casiraghi, he enlisted musician Dani Miller, the frontwoman of the punk outfit, Surfbort, to be the face, or rather, the lips, of his first campaign, her endearingly crooked, gap-tooth smile immortalized by the photographer Martin Parr. There was a signature red in Michele’s lipstick collection as well, but it too was unconventional–a coral-like crimson called Goldie Red that nods to Old Hollywood, and that arrived in a retro floral wallpaper-print bullet. “The idea is to create a humanized point of view, however strange,” Michele told Vogue when the images arrived on billboards, on the back of our first-ever issue of Vogue Beauty, and on the side of buildings in select cities as part of Michele’s Gucci Art Wall project. “But the strangeness is human, so it’s beautiful.”
In my two-decade career covering beauty, “strangeness” had never been evoked in beauty marketing materials before; Michele’s merry band of beauty muses were similarly refreshing. Glen Luchford’s gauzy film for Gucci Bloom—Michele’s first original fragrance pillar—starring the photographer Petra Collins and the model-turned-actor Hari Nef alongside a heavy-fringed Dakota Johnson burst onto the Internet with a novel perspective and a Portishead soundtrack. And then there are the products themselves: clever multitaskers like the Éclat De Beauté Effet Lumière gel gloss that invites experimentation through the skillful hands of global makeup artist Thomas De Kluyver instead of any prescribed application techniques. “Your flaws are not actually flaws,” Miller said of her experience using Michele’s Gucci Beauty. “Yes, there are traditional beauty standards, but if you don’t fit into that, you can still have a party with your quirks and celebrate yourself.”
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