Alessandro Michele often refers to Harry Styles as his brother, signifying a bond deeper than art, fashion, or commerce. Floria Sigismondi, the Italian-Canadian artist, must be Michele’s sister then.
Sigismondi got her start in the ’90s directing moody, cinematic music videos for Björk, David Bowie, and Marilyn Manson. Eventually she moved on to feature films like 2010’s The Runaways and her upcoming The Silence of Mercy, as well as painting and photography. She’s partnered with Michele before on the short film 72 Hours in André Balazs’ Chateau Marmont With Kenneth Anger and on videos for Gucci Gifting and Gucci Bloom. Like the Italian designer she is an expansionist: Just as Michele proved that anything under his eye can be Gucci-fied, so does Sigismondi bring her haunting, tender spirit to all of her own work.
With Aria, Michele and Sigismondi tried to crack the very of-the-moment question: How can you make a runway show as thrilling online as it is in-person? Their solution wasn’t a direct translation of vibes. Instead, Sigismondi brought her music video expertise, injecting both a pulse (abetted by the array of pop songs that accompanied the film) and a narrative.
The video begins outside the Savoy Club, a nod to London’s Savoy Hotel where Guccio Gucci got the idea to launch a luggage business. Inside, models walk a camera-lined runway toward a paparazzi pit before flinging open the club doors on a phantasmagoric idyll where they commune with each other and the local animals. A reemergence narrative? Perhaps, or just the affirmation that nature and togetherness prevail over all else.
Here, Sigismondi discusses the collaboration and shares some secrets of making a great fashion film.
Steff Yotka: You’ve worked with Alessandro and Gucci several times. How did you first meet him and what attracted you to his work?
Floria Sigismondi: The first thing we did together was Gucci Gifting, shot in the Garden of Ninfa, just outside of Rome. I had just started to be familiar with what he was doing with the house; he had just put a breath of fresh air into the fashion. I was just so impressed with the incredible playfulness. It was just something I was immediately drawn to, absolutely mesmerizing.
My mother actually grew up by the sewing machine. My parents were opera singers, and my mother was also a seamstress. She would watch The Sonny and Cher Show and then she would make Cher’s dress the next week. I love fashion, I love the idea of self-expression, and what I love about what Alessandro does is that you can take the collection, take it apart, and remake it as yours. It then becomes part of your personality and it tells your story—[wearing his clothes] you never feel like you’re dressed in something that doesn’t belong to you. That’s what I really love about what he does.
I came across this story about your parents and your mum being a seamstress earlier today and thought you and Alessandro must’ve had similar upbringings because he was also raised in a creative home. You must have had an instant connection with him.
Yes. And his mother is from Pescara, which is where I was born. Every time we are together he always laughs at my Pescarese accent! Alessandro’s father would also play the guitar every day for an hour. My father just passed away in February, and I was talking to Alessandro about how we lost the music in the house. He had a very similar story when his father passed away, the idea of how someone can bring sort of music to the family and you don’t know it until it’s gone. There’s something beautiful about that.
That’s a beautiful connection; I’m so sorry for your loss.
He lives on. He was 96 and he’s got a big personality that lives on.
How did the idea to work with Alessandro on the Aria collection film come about?
I got a call if I wanted to come to Cinecittà in Rome and do the project with him. I just finished shooting my film and was going off to Italy to see my mother, so it was perfect timing.
The way fashion shows are presented now are so different, it just opens up a new set of challenges: How do you do these kinds of films in a creative way? The challenge for me was: How do you have someone continue to be engaged and watch it for 15 minutes? You know, sometimes the runway show can feel repetitive, like once you’ve seen a couple of minutes you’re like, “Okay, I get the dress.” For me, I was just trying to keep people engaged in the promise of possibly something else beyond that dark room. You see people kind of going past the dark room at the end of the runway, loitering there, little things like that.
The main thing I was really excited about was the idea of Aria, which translates to the breath. I call [what we have experienced in lockdown] an incubation, a shared experience that we’re having across humanity of being locked up. The idea of Aria to me is the idea of the breath and taking a breath of fresh air. What I love about what Alessandro’s done is he’s introduced glamour at a time where it’s not really the first thing we’re thinking about.
The pacing is so crucial. You were talking about the breath, but it also felt like a heartbeat was coming back to fashion in terms of the film’s timing.
There is, like you said, a heartbeat, and I think what you’re feeling is the idea of touching and relationships presented. There are the beautiful, little human touches, like the two hands touching with a gentle caress or a wonderful kiss. Those were the things, I think, that make this film different.
How did you find working with Alessandro as a co-director?
It’s been really wonderful. There is a lot that is being said without words. We really connected.
For him, the idea of the love at the end of the film was very important. For me, it was about trying to find this relationship between humanity and nature and breathing, creating that poetic gesture between what the animals were doing and how the models can mimic that and extend that sort of dialogue.
As a director who has worked in different formats, do you feel like the fashion film provides you with a unique opportunity?
You can explore a frame of mind or you can explore a theme [in a fashion film], so it’s much more like music videos, I think. It’s not like you’re selling a product necessarily, it’s more about an idea, a theme, a concept. I think I would equate fashion films a little bit more to music videos than commercials. There’s something much more cinematic unexplored.
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