Text by Laird Borrelli-Persson, Vogue
The destination show. Sneaker lotteries. The boutique cafe. Treasure hunts for limited-edition merchandise. These days fashion and shopping are as much about experience as they are about objects. Now Gucci, following on the heels of Alessandro Michele’s deeply immersive events this year—including a Resort show at the Alyscamps burial ground in Arles where models walked among flames, and a “mind-bending” exhibition with Maurizio Cattelan in Shanghai—is further enhancing the retail experience in New York. Its Gucci Wooster location, which was designed as a store-cum-“cultural gathering space,” will expand to include Gucci Wooster Bookstore, located at 375 West Broadway, adjacent to the brand’s screening room. David Strettell of Dashwood Books, the below-ground mecca for art-loving bibliophiles, was tapped to curate Gucci’s new bolthole for bookworms.
Michele, who delights in high/low mashups both cultural and fashionable, has incorporated several literary “shout-outs” in his collections. There were book bags with Jane Austen titles in the autumn/winter 2017/2018 collection and “Never Marry a Mitford” sweaters for spring/summer 2018, while the starting point for autumn/winter 2018/2019 was a 1984 tract by the feminist philosopher Donna Haraway, titled “A Cyborg Manifesto.” The designer’s collaborations with artists and artisans are legion, and Strettell picked up the thread from there, focusing his selection on avant-garde art and photography books. Within these broad subjects, space is made for local artists, Italianate themes, and publications featuring the work of “friends of the house,” including Martin Parr, Petra Collins, and Ryan McGinley. A selection of niche magazines, including Gucci’s own issue of Le Palace zine, will share space with about 2,000 titles, both new and out-of-print, priced from $20–$1,000. “Hopefully there’s something for everyone,” says Strettell who talked to Vogue exclusively about the project.
What is your first Gucci memory?
Those wallets and belts were ubiquitous in the ’70s growing up in London. My 12-year-old daughter tells me that these days Gucci has become part of the vernacular at school, i.e., “That’s so Gucci!” expresses that something that is cool.
What’s the methodology you follow when creating libraries for others?
We draw upon an institution’s aesthetics to determine their preferences, while seeking out seminal titles by particular artists. We always try to introduce them to little-known works, beautifully rendered.
Did the store’s physical space impact your selection?
I’ve been working closely with Gucci to utilise the unorthodox design of the space. Hopefully it’s going to be a unique experience.
How have you approached the fashion selection?
Please note that we have books on other fashion brands [than Gucci]. There are books on Comme des Garçons and Alaïa, but my main focus in fashion was on books by fashion photographers known for their dedication to the book art form like Juergen Teller (Louis XV, Ich bin Vierzig), Paolo Roversi (Una Donna), et cetera.
Are there titles that nod to the brand’s Italian roots?
A few titles by great Italian artists like Luigi Ghirri (Project Prints) and the filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini (A Future Life) as well as books on the Italian Riviera by Claude Nori.
How is your curation a reflection of the spirit and heritage of creativity in Soho?
There are some references to Soho and the downtown art scene of the ’80s. A good example of this would be King for a Decade by Jean-Michel Basquiat. It’s an out-of-print Japanese import in Japanese and English from 1997 that’s beautifully designed and comprehensive for such a concise volume, with an awesome cover to boot!
Food and fashion are often bedfellows these days with many brands including a cafe in their spaces. Do you think bookstores have a similar impact?
I think it reflects the changing nature of retail and ultimately the impact of online shopping. Retailers have to stand out and these collaborations have to be smart.
How do you think Gucci is combining art with fashion?
In the past few years there has been an enormous contribution to the arts by Gucci. It’s really refreshing to see a mainstream brand taking chances and supporting the arts in this way. The importance of that is enormous; to support emerging artists and institutions and give art a broad platform like this is key. In the case of Dashwood, we are a really small outfit—a store and publisher in Noho that has a niche audience.
Can you speak about the meeting of art and fashion?
I feel sometimes fashion gets the relationship all wrong—they find a cool artist they want to associate with and end up cannibalising them. The result is usually pretty bad and a tepid version of the original. I think that Gucci’s done it the smart way, by supporting artists in a range of disciplines, and allowing them the freedom to express their own visions unfettered.