Gucci’s pageant of excess for F/W 18 was a doubling down of Alessandro Michele’s exhaustive design gymnastics. There was a ton going on at all times and most of it ended up on everyone’s Instagram feeds at one point. Like, you send models down the runway carrying replicas of their own heads or fabricate a baby dragon and people make a note of it–at least. The clothes were neat too, duh. Don’t get Guccied out just yet, though, there was something special going on that you missed: The show’s exclusive closer Olga Zapivokhina didn’t carry with her a teeny dragon, or a head, but rather the story of a personal episode that threatened her life. Instead of it bringing her down, she took a turn on Michele’s runway and is stronger for it.
Before her global appearance, Olga, who also designs leather book covers Pigeonn Covers in her city of Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, had to undergo a daunting operation to remove a benign brain tumor that had caused her multiple brain hemorrhages. After the first hemorrhage she didn’t immediately run to the doctor, “It was very sudden. For 2 months I hid from everyone that I felt very bad. I thought that everything would go away by itself, but a person close to me, having found out about this, made me go to the doctor,” Olga says thankfully. That’s when she learned her exact diagnosis, “I did not even know how to tell my parents about it, because they did not know that I had been sick for 2 months.” More hemorrhages happened before she underwent the operation that would save her life. Her buzzed head was not the direction of Gucci’s hairstylist, Paul Hanlon, it was courtesy of her time in the hospital, “The nurse shaved my head and said now you can go to the mirror. I went over and smiled. I said, ‘Look at my neck! I have such beautiful ears. They are like an elf!’ I was happy, but she thought I was crazy.”
Recovering from brain surgery to jetting to Milan was an unexpected development that completely flipped her fortune. “One of my old friends and my agent at Number Model Management, Ilya Vershinin, came to visit me at the hospital. When I was discharged, I sent him a video of how I ate biscuits while my whole head was covered in iodine. A week later, Ilya came and took a simple video which Davide Renne (Gucci’s design director) saw.” Two weeks later she was in Italy, celebrating her 22nd birthday and singing a career-shaping, exclusive contract with the brand led by Alessandro Michele. That appearance at Gucci served as a emotional coda to the entire harrowing experience. With this context, the clinical lab, complete with examination beds, Michele chose to present his collection seemed almost deliberately fitting. Olga says, “When the music was turned on, which started with the sound of the cardiac monitor, I just stepped aside and tried not to burst into tears.”