Don’t Call It Ephemeral: GUCCI’s “Blind for Love”

This summer, the Italian designer Alessandro Michele commissioned the British photographer Nick Waplington to document the backstage bustle of Gucci’s Cruise 2017 collection presentation. Heightened by the loaded backdrop that London’s Westminster Abbey provided, the photographer’s soft spot for chaos meshes well with the designer’s affinity for embellishment and all things gaudy. Blind for Love, the book that captures all of the hidden action and, well, non-action, was just released as a limited edition of 2,000.

Throughout his career, Waplington has pursued many different interests. He has focused on environmental issues, photographing English landfills, as well as subcultures, namely the club kids of 90s New York City, and the fashion industry through backstage photography for era-defining designers such as Isaac Mizrahi in the 90s and Alexander McQueen in the mid-2000s. The link between all of his different projects manifests itself in his earliest work. Young Waplington got into photography portraying the neighborhoods surrounding him, and specifically the characters who inhabited them. His interest in any subject seems to be a sociological and psychological one. This is what makes his images of landfills so gut-wrenching and his snapshots from New York’s nights of yore so exhilarating: they peer beyond their surface, shiny or gritty, his lens aiming for the heart of the issue or subject he has it set on.

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The interest of Michele’s practice relates to the work of the photographer. Known for their highly ornamental maximalism, Michele’s designs are extremely eclectic and full to the brim with cultural references. His process, it seems, is rooted in meticulous research, almost obsessive in nature. The propensity to hoard that often comes with this intense nerdiness is familiar to Waplington. In a TateShots interview, the photographer confesses: “I realized it was getting a bit crazy the other day, when I was looking through my boxes and I found my plastic bag collection. I thought, ‘why the fuck am I collecting plastic bags?’” Naturally, the attention to detail that comes with this degree of passion is an invaluable asset in documenting Michele’s intricate clothing as well as a setting as frantic as the backstage of a fashion show. As a result, Waplington’s photographs ooze pre- and post-show glam. This definition of glam, of course, includes plastic-cover chic and cardboard garbage. The polished gothic atmosphere of Westminster Abbey, which was the architectural context of the presentation itself, is only ever an afterthought in Waplington’s photographs. They instead zoom in on boxes of jewellery, models in bathrobes… just the mess that conjures up front row magic. But for Michele and Waplington, this lively mess might just be the whole point. Blind For Love captures the delicate process of creating the fantasy that was the show. The enigmatic title of the book explains itself in a single shot. It shows Michele observing the final fitting of a model, looking concentrated and calm, in an army green hoodie embroidered with the slogan. The designer’s romanticism is instinctive. It is inextricably part of his disposition.

The moments captured in this book took place a mere couple of weeks before the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The collection was inspired by and aesthetically dedicated especially to British subcultures of the last half-century. Sarah Mower wrote that backstage, Alessandro Michele exclaimed: “You are part of the culture of Europe!” This is a fundamentally romantic notion. It implies a disregard for nationalism that – in the broader political picture of the Western world – unfortunately appears to be just what Michele truly excels at: fantasy. Surely, Waplington’s relationship to the country he grew up in is more ambiguous. Only a certain sense of alienation leads to the study of a subject as obsessive as that which his decade-spanning career as a photographer originated from. What makes this collaboration and its resulting product so striking is that its ambiguity does not negate its tenderness.

 

Blind for Love is published by Assouline.

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