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Alessandro Michele Opens Up About Fashion, Freedom, Family and Philosophy

The newly appointed creative director of Valentino is presenting his first book, an autobiography written with philosopher Emanuele Coccia.

Alessandro Michele Opens Up About Fashion, Freedom, Family and Philosophy

Alessandro Michele and Emanuele Coccia

TURIN, Italy — “This feels like a rock concert,” said Alessandro Michele, entering the spacious pavilion at the international book trade show Salone del Libro here on Saturday, marveling at the number of young visitors cheering him on. “In this digital era, the younger generations still choose words and books,” he said with some surprise.

To be sure, this edition of the trade show was especially overcrowded, surprising even the organizers. Michele’s appearance to present his first book, an autobiography titled “La Vita delle Forme: Filosofia del Reincanto [The Life of Shapes: Philosophy of Re-enchantment],” written with philosopher Emanuele Coccia, filled the room as fans dutifully lined up for about an hour for the book signing.

After appearing clearly touched by the reaction at his first public appearance since exiting the role of creative director of Gucci in November 2022, Michele looked very relaxed and happy, at times straightening his signature long dark hair under a cap, and peeling off his green trench, worn over light indigo jeans and a white T-shirt with green details.

Michele opened up about his family and his life, as he did in an interview with WWD following the event at the trade show.

Surprisingly, the book contains no photos or sketches and, despite Michele’s love of colors and embellishments, the cover is in an “undecided” hue, with the title in red and a central, small black medieval-like symbol on it that’s vaguely reminiscent of a butterfly. “I wanted to celebrate the word, naked in its complexity,” said Michele, deliberately avoiding using the word “fashion” in the title “to avoid giving the wrong message” to potential readers.

The idea of the book grew naturally with Coccia, said Michele. “We spoke and recorded our thoughts” for about a year, mostly during the pandemic, and it is “very intense and personal,” he admitted, as it led to a deep, almost cathartic reflection on his life. “I put thoughts and things in order, I discovered my priorities, it was like going to therapy.”

The designer said the book took about three-and-a-half years to complete and that he and Coccia thought of a way to create a dialogue between fashion and philosophy, deciding “to keep the two voices distinct, employing italics for that of Emanuele, weaving the two on the page as in the Talmud or Bible manuscripts,” according to a joint preface note.

“It was fashion that brought me to philosophy,” said Michele, who repeatedly paid tribute to his life partner Giovanni Attili, a professor at the prestigious La Sapienza University in Rome, for helping him understand philosophy. Attili introduced Coccia to Michele, who said he was a self-taught philosophy buff.  Early on, the designer thought “philosophy was complicated, something that tangles up your brain, fit only for the enlightened few, but then I understood it was close to life,” and he realized it helped explain his own thoughts and his views on fashion “much more clearly.”

 In fact, he recalled the surprise of journalists and editors when the press release for his first collection, written by Attili, was not about the clothes but about philosophy. “Some thought it was a snobbish pose, but to me it seemed the most fitting language,” and one that he would not give up.

Alessandro Michele Opens Up About Fashion, Freedom, Family and Philosophy

The cover of “La Vita delle Forme.”

Michele never thought of writing a book before and underscored he did not really think of who would read it, as it was “not an editorial idea.” But he conceded it took some effort “to set up those appointments with myself” to record his thoughts.

The spotlight is again on Michele since he started a new phase of his career last month as creative director of Valentino, succeeding Pierpaolo Piccioli. He shied away from providing details of his new path, but did say this is a “ moment of reflection and absorption, of learning and great gestation,”  and he was clearly blown away by the archival designs of founder Valentino Garavani and the expertise of the seamstresses and artisans of the famed couture house.  

He also turned his attention to the current events taking place outside the fashion industry, “when freedom seems to be at risk and books seem to be sentinels watching over us. There is a fear of people who read and to lose yourself in words is freedom,” he contended. Michele described himself as “omnivorous” when it comes to choosing what to read, although he prefers history books and newspapers to novels.

“I am a bit of a nosey parker. I like to read about the life of others, I am curious and often read bits of several books at the same time, and I jot down thoughts on notebooks and scraps of paper; my bag is always filled with pens and pencils. Writing on paper helps me reflect on things,” he said.

In the book he admits to being a collector of objects, “books, statues, skirts, chairs, pants, cups, paintings: everything lives, independently from its shapes, size, purpose and importance,” and one of the chapters is dedicated to animism.

The topic of freedom was a recurring one as he said he never wanted to give up on being himself. “The most difficult thing is to be how you are when others try to manipulate you into being different. Becoming who you are is trying.”

He recalled he was 43 in 2015 when then-president and chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri offered him the top post at Gucci, succeeding Frida Giannini. He believed he would be fired after that first show, when he followed his instincts and paraded ruffled shirts on men with flowers in their hair. “I wasn’t thinking of the career, I am what I am and I just did what I thought was natural. I just wanted to talk about beauty. ”

He spoke of his surprise as people started talking about gender fluidity. “I had never heard of this term before, I just work looking at what I see around me, and at the time it seemed perfectly normal to me.”

Alessandro Michele Opens Up About Fashion, Freedom, Family and Philosophy

Alessandro Michele

“I don’t invent anything, I observe,” he writes in the book, saying that “to imagine a garment means imagining a person, building characters of a diverse universe.”

He revealed that as a child he braided his father’s hair, who showed him “the simple way to be free even at 60 with braided hair,” and reminisced about the walks with him outdoors in nature, “when he invited me to be quiet and listen to the wind blowing, which seemed to be the closest thing to God.” He also writes and spoke fondly of his mother and aunt, who were twins, and which led to the Twinsburg collection, his last for Gucci. “They taught me of non-exclusive love.”

Michele concluded the book by providing additional details on Twinsburg and his other collections for Gucci, from the spring 2022 lineup paraded in Hollywood to Aria, marking the brand’s centenary, and the Cosmogonie cruise 2023 show in Apulia.

“La Vita delle Forme” is published by HarperCollins and is being translated in English, French and German. Michele will also present it in Milan on May 31 at Teatro Franco Parenti.