7 must-see moments at the opening of the Gucci exhibition
"Gucci is a feeling," read the tagline of the house's fall/winter '81 campaign, and a new immersive exhibition in London ensures that every visitor feels it. Here we look back at seven of the must-see moments within the walls of the unmissable Gucci Cosmos, colored by insights from one of the creative forces behind it.

"The exhibition is very different here," says British contemporary artist Es Devlin, who co-created and designed the new immersive Gucci Cosmos exhibition at 180 The Strand in London. "It's expanded from Shanghai," she adds, referring to the first iteration of the exhibition that debuted in China earlier this year.

This is a significant second stop for the traveling archival exhibition, as Gucci's roots in London run deeper than people think. In fact, the brand's history began at the turn of the 19th century in the British capital, with a young Guccio Gucci hired to operate the newly installed electric elevator at the Savoy Hotel. For the seven minutes it took the device to reach the top floor-with smelling salts and brandy on hand to ease the discomfort and claustrophobia of the guests-Gucci no doubt observed and absorbed the habits, style, and, above all, the luggage of the elite. He returned to Florence in 1921, founded his eponymous leather goods house, and the rest is fashion history.

Celebrating all 102 years of that history, Gucci Cosmos is a playful and engaging journey that spirals back and forth through the decades, forming a love letter to the house's Florentine roots and an ode to its enduring creativity. "We didn't adopt chronology as the organizing principle of the exhibition at all," says Devlin, who worked closely with curator Maria Luisa Frisa and creative director Sabato De Sarno to bring the archive to life and, in Devlin's words, "make the objects protagonists.""Instead of having visitors learn Gucci's history in their minds by reading the words, I want them to feel it in their gut. I want them to feel it in their guts when they experience the sense of color, of music, of emotion."

1. An ascending initiation
To access the main exhibition spaces, visitors enter a large-scale replica of the Savoy's famous lacquered elevator, London's first electric elevator. Opened in 1889, it was affectionately called the "ascending room" by its astonished visitors, who were unaccustomed to standing so close together in a windowless enclosed box. "They were frightened, many of them. They were either chattering a lot or they were stunned and sick and needed salts and brandy," Devlin says. The invention, remarkable for its time, would be constantly used by Guccio to escort guests and their luggage in the elevator, allowing him to study the ways of the international elite and, more importantly, their luggage.

The recreated Gucci Cosmos, lacquered in red like the original, takes small groups of visitors on an ascending son-et-lumière journey, telling the story of how those seven-minute trips would one day inspire the founding of an artisanal luggage atelier.

2. Enter the zoetrope
Gucci has always drawn inspiration from the equestrian world, a connection celebrated in Gucci Cosmos' "Zoetrope" installation. Punctuated by large-format immersive screens featuring evocative video footage of a galloping horse accompanied by an equine-rhythm soundscape, the archival pieces on display demonstrate how various equestrian icons have ignited the imagination over time. This specific exhibit includes the Horsebit, with its double ring and bar-which became a distinctive element in 1953 when Ado Gucci introduced it on the iconic moccasin-and the distinctive green-red-green Web stripe, inspired by the strap that holds a horse's saddle in place.

3. Drawers of Archive Treasures.
To enter the "Archive" space is to explore the origins of Gucci's most iconic bags. Housed in a breathtaking, turquoise maze-like room lined with mirrors that create a sense of infinity, the installation is reminiscent of the Gucci Archives in Florence, lined with a multitude of cabinets and drawers that visitors can explore on their own. "I wanted not only to show a scarf, for example, but also to evoke the feelings I had when I opened the drawer in the archive and discovered the scarf," Devlin explains.

4. Giants at Rest
Upon entering "Two," visitors find an extraordinary space in which a pair of monumental, 10-meter-tall white statues hover just above the floor. Lying on their sides, like the guards of a lost ancient temple, the statues become a blank canvas for a mesmerizing series of projected images of men's and women's clothing from Gucci's past and present, in homage to the house's pioneering faith in unisex fashion. "In Shanghai, these two huge androgynous sculptures towered over us," Devlin explains. Here, our perspective is shifted and we feel like we are lying on the floor and looking down on them."

5. The Garden of Eden
The "Eden" space of the Gucci cosmos brings to life the tale of Flora, an exquisite and delicately naturalistic image of plants and fauna from 1966. Commissioned by Rodolfo Gucci from acclaimed Italian artist and illustrator Vittorio Accornero de Testa for a silk scarf created for Princess Grace of Monaco, it became the leitmotif of Gucci's 1981 ready-to-wear collection.

6. A Cabinet of Wonders that Transforms.
Here, a rotating cabinet of curios rotates, revealing and concealing a wildly eclectic collection of clothing, accessories, and curios. The drawers and compartments of the three-meter-tall structure mechanically slide in and out, displaying the full range of home design. Through the slow, hypnotic movement, visitors can observe everything from a look from Ford's 2001 collection with a black leather bustier to a 2006 Frida Giannini gold evening gown and a GG velvet bag with a metal handle and rhinestones, as well as a spherical punk-inspired leather bag with metal spikes from Michele's 2019.

7. The World of Ancora by Sabato De Sarno
With "Ancora," visitors enter a room directly inspired by De Sarno's debut collection and runway show for the fashion house. Decorated entirely in the new shade of Ancora red, the room centers on a semi-transparent parallelepiped structure that contains screens inside a mirrored chamber. Projected on the semi-transparent walls is a series of personal memories, phrases and other fragments in Italian and English - words appear and disappear in a hypnotic movement. Fusing the art of installation with the essence of poetry, the perimeter walls of the "Ancora" space are covered with cards-each featuring a single word-that visitors can move around to create their own compositions.

June 13, 2024