London — The concept of worshiping at the altar of fashion took new form on Thursday, as Gucci held its cruise 2017 catwalk show amid the Gothic 13th-century cloisters of Westminster Abbey, one of the most sacred sites in Britain.
A 300-strong congregation of industry insiders, starlets and devoted believers gathered just before 3 p.m. on an overcast day for the latest display of kaleidoscopic pageantry from the brand’s bearded creative designer Alessandro Michele.
“I am literally obsessed with everything Alessandro creates,” said the actress Elle Fanning from her perch near Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco. “There is this constant interplay between old and new that also feels fresh and present and unlike anything else. I want everything, and my friends do, too.”
They were seated on a front row of forest-green brocade pillows atop gray stone pews, each cushion embroidered with a medieval-style snake or bird, bumble bee or rabbit.
Nearby were Georgia May Jagger, Alexa Chung and the singer will.i.am, as well as several of Mr. Michele’s contemporaries, including the London-based designers Christopher Kane and Mary Katrantzou. Salma Hayek marched in wearing oversize glittering black sunglasses, the better to survey her surroundings. “It is like a mind-blowing movie scene,” she said.
“Look around you: This is the Alessandro effect,” said the Gucci chief executive Marco Bizzarri, standing on the catwalk his house had built on the centuries-old tombstones of the great and good of England.
Over the last 800 years, they may have hosted countless numbers of people making their way into the main church for weddings, funerals and coronations — but never before for a fashion show.
This was not the first time a designer juxtaposed the sacred and the profane. Last season, Vetements held its show in the American Cathedral in Paris, and Alexander Wang in St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City.
But the use of the abbey drew criticism from religious figures such as the Rev. Peter Owen-Jones — an author and the vicar of Firle, Glynde and Beddingham — in the days leading up to the event.
“Is the central icon of Christianity there to offer spiritual sustenance and love or is it just part of the marketplace of capitalism?” he told a British newspaper.
But the dean of Westminster, head of the chapter of the Abbey, championed the decision, calling it “a new and exciting collaboration for us.”
As Mr. Michele enters his third season at the helm of Gucci, he has certainly generated a near-reverential aura around himself and his aesthetic. His chaotic and colorful collections are noted for a gender-bending, nostalgia-tinged, soft-focus flare, and he has been touted as Gucci’s commercial savior, reigniting sales after the Italian luxury house spent several seasons in the commercial wilderness. (This is especially important, as Gucci is the flagship brand of the parent group Kering, and accounts for nearly two-thirds of its total profit.)
Cruise 2017, a slow procession of approximately 90 models to a mournful chorus of “Scarborough Fair” sung by the Schola Cantorum of Oxford, was yet another expression of the Michele aesthetic, notionally inspired by what Mr. Michele described as “punks, Victoriana and schoolboys,” or a promenade through centuries of English history.
“I love the English aesthetic — in a way I feel like it is close to my own language, a beautiful chaos,” he said backstage post-show, calling the country “a box of treasures.”
“It is a powerful mix of the past and the present,” he said. “The English, they love their culture, they celebrate it, in every last detail, and if they go against it, it’s punk.”
This particular vision of British eccentricity took shape in pleated 1930s-style tea dresses, rippling in the designer’s sugar-hit color palette of candy-floss pinks and eye-popping peppermints; lashings of Victoriana and sumptuous metallic brocade gowns with sweeping sleeves made for a modern Guinevere.
There were paneled cocktail shifts like stained-glass windows; studded, oversize black leather biker jackets that bled into punky tartan trousers or heritage check skirts; Union Jack sweatshirts and floral deerstalkers; and (perhaps in homage to Queen Elizabeth II) a rose-printed silk head scarf, military regalia jacket and plaid kilt, teamed with oversize Perspex spectacles.
It was a charming and romantic and relentless (and sometimes clashing) mash-up. As for the audience, the reaction can be summed up fairly easily: the rapture, the rapture.