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Gucci Cosmos: A first look at the new fashion exhibition in London

The latest iteration of Gucci’s travelling exhibition arrives in the capital and it’s a magical, must-see celebration of the Italian fashion house

The new Gucci Cosmos exhibition has arrived in London at 180 Studios. Spanning the last 102 years, the immersive show on the Strand has been created by set designer Es Devlin, alongside fashion historian and curator Maria Luisa Frisa. The result is an imaginative, detail-rich display that encapsulates the true spirit of Gucci, as well as the pivotal role London plays in its story. Read on for our first look review of the show. 

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Following its highly successful debut in Shanghai, the travelling Gucci Cosmos exhibition has made its glittering entrance in London this week. The immersive show, which celebrates the Italian fashion house’s 102-year history, is at 180 Studios at 180 The Strand until 31 December – and it really is a must-see for any fashion lover. 

The exhibition seeks to “get to the core of the mythology” of Gucci, according to the show’s creator Es Devlin. The British contemporary artist and stage designer has collaborated once more with Italian fashion curator and historian Maria Luisa Frisa on the dramatic display (the pair worked on the exhibition’s debut in China earlier this year). Together, they bring Gucci’s past, present and future to life in the capital.

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Set pieces, sculptures and multimedia artworks make up a series of ‘worlds’ that totally transform 180 Strand, each one drawing on treasures from the House’s archives to trace a different aspect of Gucci. As the visitor walks through the exhibition, we’re taken on a kaleidoscopic, sometimes surreal journey which – though not chronological, more backwards and forwards – reflects its enduring artistry and originality. 

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From 1921, when Guccio Gucci founded his eponymous leather-goods atelier in Florence, through to the more recent creative directors Tom Ford, Frida Giannini, Alessandro Michele and now Sabato De Sarno, the exhibition is a whirl of the finest craftsmanship and creativity. It cleverly showcases how Gucci’s era-defining designs, symbols and codes have forever inspired and been reinterpreted by design visionaries. In a unique spin – and one which will be replicated in other countries where Gucci Cosmos is staged – the exhibition has been adapted for London, highlighting the city’s central role in the House’s origin.

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Eden

And so, as you enter 180 Strand, the cavernous entrance hall has been transformed into the lobby of The Savoy, all marble flooring and polished wood. The hotel – a short stroll down the Strand – was the ‘birthplace’ of the brand, where a young Guccio Gucci first took a job as a luggage porter in 1897. To access the main exhibition spaces, we’re invited into a ‘world’ known as The Ascending Room – a large-scale reproduction of the hotel’s original red lift (it even replicates the sensations of an elevator).

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Ascending Room

Guccio would use it to take hotel guests’ suitcases to their rooms, catalysing a fascination for both luxury and travel which would forge his future. We’re told that the lift was the first of its kind in London – and took seven minutes to ascend to its destination. 

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Portal

This magical, imaginative experience sets the tone for an exhibition that is full of surprises and rich in detail. One ‘world’ Portals celebrates luggage and journeys, a theme integral to Gucci’s DNA. Here – on moving circular carousels – are examples of Gucci’s finest luggage designs across the 1920s, the 1960s, the 2020s.

And – against a backdrop of a wooden freight carrier – we see dioramas inspired by cultural icons who have played a significant role in Gucci’s past and present. We spy the 1961 Jackie bag created for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, for example, and a 1966 creation of the famous ‘Flora’ print for Princess Grace of Monaco. 

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Zoetrope

Another ‘world’ Zoetrope plays homage to London through British equestrian culture and its influence on Gucci’s signature horsebit detailing, the space transformed by screens where CGI horses gallop around you amidst flashing lights and pulsing music. In another, Eden, larger-than-life sized insects and flowers hang from the domed ceilings to show Gucci’s continued fascination with nature and telling the tale of its iconic ‘Flora’ print. 

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Cabinet of Wonders

One space – specially adapted for the London exhibition – is called the Cabinet of Wonders and will surely be a highlight. Here, as a revolving cabinet of curiosities opens and closes, we get a glimpse of – amongst other memorable pieces – Harry Styles’s viral sequin Coachella outfit and a Tom Ford 2001 look. For Es Devlin, this room is the beating heart of the exhibition, the rhythmic opening and closing of drawers like a creative pulse as the fashion house produces and unveils collection after collection. 

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Carousel

In Carousel, 25 mannequins stand behind patterned glass giving the illusion of an ever-moving catwalk, as we’re taken on a journey through the house’s various creative directors to the sound of a symphony of sewing machines. The exhibition concludes with Gucci Ancora. The room, decorated in the exclusive shade of Ancora Red (a nod to that lift in The Savoy all those years ago) is inspired by the debut collection and runway show of new creative director De Sarno, and a celebration of all that is to come for the storied Italian maison.  

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Ancora

During a Q&A with Es Devlin and Maria Luisa Frisa at the exhibition preview, both were keen to underline that this is an exhibition that isn’t about nostalgia. Rather, says Es, it’s “like entering a maze of multiple imaginations through time”, a celebration of ever-renewed inspirations and creativity. As Maria Luisa Frisa adds, Gucci is “open to the changing of time” because “archives are like compost; layers upon layers of material slowly build new energy”. It’s an energy that well and truly resides in the Gucci Cosmos, shared with London for now, then at later iterations in Paris, Kyoto and beyond. 

180 Studios, 180 The Strand, London WC2R 1EA
180studios.com

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