As she celebrates her announcement as the house’s Watches and Jewellery ambassador, the singer discusses her friendship with the designer
“I didn’t realise I was waiting for this until I saw it, do you know what I mean?” Florence Welch – musician, muse and newly unveiled Gucci watches and jewellery ambassador – is discussing Alessandro Michele’s design vision for the Italian house, and in doing so might have just summed up the entire fashion industry’s mindset, too. When Michele emerged into the spotlight back in January 2015, stepping up to replace a just-departed Frida Giannini, his androgynous, bohemian vision pumped much-needed lifeblood through the veins of Milan Fashion Week. In the 18 months that have followed, the world has been witness to full-blown Gucci mania – and from smash-hit campaigns to his fair share of catwalk copies, the ‘Michele Effect’ has been impossible to ignore.
It’s certainly not been lost on Welch, who today is on her home turf to celebrate her appointment with the brand, which is also creating wardrobes for her upcoming tour. The Florence + the Machine singer has had her eye on Michele from the beginning, having been tipped off by a friend at the house that the then-unknown designer, dramatically creating a debut collection in just a few weeks, had been soundtracking his work with her album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. “Obviously, I was really interested to see what the collection was like – when I saw it I loved it. I found it fascinating and I really wanted to meet him,” she recalls. For Welch, known for her own brilliantly unique dress sense, the new-look Gucci was enthralling – “a celebration of the whimsical and the eccentric and bold”. Below, she discusses working with Michele, the symbolism of his creations, and why she’s in awe of designers.
How did you first meet Alessandro?
Florence Welch: We had arranged to meet but got our hotels mixed up in New York, so we were both walking along the street and I saw this man with, like, a Shakespearean beard and a lot of jewellery – I think I was wearing some kind of red flare, pom-pom waistcoat type thing, and we both checked out each other’s outfits. Then when we did manage to meet in one place, we were like, “Oh, it’s you – I saw your outfit!” We just started chatting and I think we bonded over lots of things – his last collection had influences of Catherine de Medici, who was from a Florentine Renaissance family, and my mother’s a professor of Renaissance history so I’ve been brought up with that in my life too. And we both have a fascination with memento mori jewellery, and a very similar aesthetic... so we had a lot to talk about.
How do you think his personality is reflected in his design?
Florence Welch: It’s amazing that he has this whole world inside of him that we’re only just now getting to see. That was in there the whole time! He must have just been bursting because it’s a really fully formed universe. I think what’s so nice about it is that the collections all blend; there’s not one collection and then he changes his identity and the next one is totally different. You really feel like he’s giving you a very personal view on clothes, fashion and the things that he loves. So I think it’s a very generous way of working, because it feels like it’s done with a lot of love. You feel like he is really giving you his heart with his collection, that there’s a story. And his celebration of femininity, masculinity and sexuality are quite different, in a way.
“It’s amazing that (Alessandro) has this whole world inside of him that we’re only just now getting to see. That was in there the whole time!” – Florence Welch
What are your favourite elements of Gucci jewellery?
Florence Welch: He uses lots of snakes and bees and flowers – I love all the use of nature and animals. The bees I think are really interesting; they used to be seen as messengers between the living and the dead. Then there are the snakes, which are obviously temptation… so there are those themes that run throughout but there’s always a slight edge to it, which I think he does really beautifully. I can see a flower and it’s pretty but then there’s this idea of decay as well. Nothing is ever too pretty.
How did the process of creating the tour wardrobe unfold?
Florence Welch: It was about taking shapes and themes from the collections and perhaps altering them so they suit the stage. Because I move around so much we needed to find the pieces that would work on stage and then we altered them and chose the colours; we basically remodelled them so they had a lot of freedom of movement and would be easy to perform in.
So perhaps none of those super-high platforms?
Florence Welch: Those are actually quite comfy to walk in, but because I’m tall already they make me enormous! So I’m still barefoot on stage. I haven’t quite managed how to figure out how to do modern dance in platforms.
How important do you think clothing is when you sing live? Do you put on a stage outfit and then become the performer side of yourself?
Florence Welch: It’s interesting, actually, because with this record I really felt like I wanted to have less of a boundary between performer and person. I wanted to have clothes I would wear off stage and on, because with the record being so personal I didn’t feel like hiding behind a big dress or a stage persona – it just seemed like it wouldn’t work. But I hate getting ready before a show – I’m always so anxious and nervous that to sit down and get ready is, like, my absolute nightmare. I want something I can just put on. So it was very much about being more vulnerable in a sense, as well as having clothes that I can move in.
How different are the Gucci outfits to the ones you normally perform in?
Florence Welch: The outfits started very, very stripped back. Actually, as the year’s gone on, my stage persona and my personality have blended even more, so it’s nice that Alessandro has come on at this time. You know, it’s funny, because it started very streamlined, with a white suit – then these coloured shirts with big sleeves were getting introduced, and now with Alessandro it’s like I could only hold down my maximalist for so long! I think now that I’m ready to embrace brighter colour... The colours and the fabrics have become a lot bolder than they were at the start a year ago.
“I wonder if Alessandro finds it hard to release a collection, because designers have to do them so much more than albums. I’m always in awe of that kind of creativity” – Florence Welch
Do you think that you both share a certain perfectionism?
Florence Welch: We haven’t spoken about it but from looking at the detailing and everything in his work I can imagine we do. I wonder if he finds it hard to release a collection, because designers have to do them so much more than albums. You have to release collections all the time, whereas I find it incredibly hard to say an album is done, because the idea of saying something is done is like getting it perfect – and nothing can ever be perfect, I’m never satisfied. It’s like I just release something unfinished every time. I’m always in awe of that kind of creativity – keeping up the pace and still doing something that always seems really interesting.
How do you think that your creative visions are aligned in terms of how you approach your music?
Florence Welch: It’s about exposing yourself, in a way. He literally put cut-out loafers with fur in them on the runway – was like, no, this is like what you’re going to wear. Even I, when I first saw them, I was like ‘What the fuck?!’ But then when you wear them, they go with everything and they look great and if you see someone else wearing them you're like, ‘They look amazing.’ In terms of music, if it makes you feel uncomfortable or if it feels exposing, it’s probably the right thing to do, because you’re really giving a part of yourself that you believe in and you’re not sure how people are going to respond to it – but that jumping off point is actually where you have to go to.
Lead image – Florence wears G-Timeless watch with bee, star, triangle and heart motifs and brown alligator leather strap; Icon ring in 18kt yellow gold, citrine quartz, London topaz, pink and green tourmaline; Icon ring in 18kt yellow gold and withe enamel; Icon bangle bracelet in 18kt yellow gold and white enamel; Le Marché des Merveilles ring with bee motif in 18kt yellow gold, aged sterling silver and grey diamonds; Le Marchés des Merveilles bracelet with bee motifs in 18kt yellow gold; Le Marché des Merveilles ring with bee motif in 18kt yellow gold