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Rag Trade

Rush hour for Gucci
by Michael Specter

Milan is governed more completely by fashion than it has been by any other ruler since the Emperor Hadrian. Even so, there is something particularly excessive about the place when the men's collections are unveiled, at the end of June. The women's shows have a built-in glamour; there are always plenty of celebrities to watch, not to mention a Naomi or a Gisele, recognizable to all. But who can name his favorite male model? When these young men wander through the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel between shows, they always seem a little lost.

So designers have to try harder with the men's shows. Their purpose is not so much to sell clothes as to capture the attention of the "fashion community"– the roving horde of reporters, publicists, buyers, and models who shuttle constantly between New York, London, Paris, and Milan. The rules are simple: the more outrageousness the better. This year the competition was brutal. For a while, people were talking about the Versace show–models covered in gold chains, giant bracelets, and belts that looked as if they belonged on a championship fighter, with hair big and blow-dried in the manner of Streisand circa "Yentl." Then Tom Ford showed up, and the attention of the horde shifted abruptly.

Ford, the creative director of Gucci, is the reigning rock star of the fashion world. His show in Milan featured men in bathing suits that looked like Mylar codpieces, leather bondage straps, shiny kimonos, and lots and lots of karate clothes decorated with flaming dragons. But that was just the warmup. The real Gucci event occurred later that night, at a party to celebrate the release of Ford's new fragrance, Gucci Rush for Men. "There is no better place to bring out a fragrance,'' he said backstage after the fashion show. "People get excited about these things here. They understand male vanity better than anywhere else." Italy is, after all, the Alps of male narcissism, a place where taxi-drivers dress in bespoke suits and police detectives look like jewel thieves. In Milan, the arrival of Rush for Men was regarded with the same excitement as the completion of the Human Genome Project in Washington. Gucci estimates that it will sell twenty-five million dollars' worth of the stuff in the first year. "Vanity is not a man-woman thing anymore," Ford said approvingly. "It is totally transgendered."

At a press conference about the launch, he explained that he had sampled hundreds of scents before arriving at Rush, which the Gucci people describe as a "woody, musky fragrance" that is "free: like an electron. On the edge of change but under control…spiking pleasure with madness." "We sit down around the table, and we smell at least twenty-five scents each time,'' Ford said. "And we do this six times. Then we narrow it to three or four, and I start wearing them. If nobody says, 'you smell great,' there's something wrong."

It was impossible to get a whiff of Ford at the party. It was held in the most ostentatious venue in Milan, the Royal Pavilion of Mussolini's Stazione Centrale, which is among the most imposing fascist monuments ever built. As disco music echoed off the Art Deco walls, Ford danced with Heather Graham, whom he had flown in to help adorn the crowd. Dozens of Gucci factotums, dressed in black or white–never both–wandered among the guests, handing out samples of the fragrance, which comes packaged inside a clear cube, but Ford didn't linger; he quickly swept up a great marble staircase to a private room. "Tom just loves this place,'' one of his assistants said as she stood in the center of the hall beneath an enormous chandelier made of Murano glass. "It's the perfect place for the new modern man. It's just so Rush."

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