A week ago Gucci made headlines. News outlets from Today to CNN were quick to applaud and cheerlead a model’s silent protest during the Gucci Spring/ Summer 2020 show at Milan Fashion Week. As the runway’s fluorescent lights turned on and an unnerving drone of a soundtrack began, models were floated down a conveyor belt bearing rigid, white outfits composed of buckles and ties. Resembling straight jackets, this portion of the collection was the catalyst to model Ayesha Tan-Jone’s outrage who decided to display the words “MENTAL HEALTH IS NOT FASHION” on their palms.
The instagram-ready picture of the now infamous model with their hands up spread like wildfire and riled support for their message that Gucci’s imagery of the mental health community was insensitive and cruel.
This recent anecdote inadvertently raises an important topic of discussion: What is allowed in fashion and where’s the fucking rulebook? Controversies are not new in fashion and seem to have happened every year since the inception of the runway. Social outcries do not discriminate and have historically targeted a range of designers from Alexander Mcqueen’s “Highland Rape” F/W95 show to John Galliano’s Dior S/S2000 “Homeless Couture”.
A common thread is that the designers meaning behind their collection is misinterpreted by the public e.g McQueen used rape to refer to England’s extortion of Scotland whereas in our most recent example, Gucci’s head designer Alessandro Michele stated he used the bondage pieces on the S/S 2020 runway to represent how society tries to constrict individuality in favor of conformity… not a reference to the mental health industry.
Regardless of the intended meaning behind a collection, it is dangerous to “cancel” a fashion house every time you feel their collections are offensive; Although you may be heralded as a crusader, you’re actually limiting the creative expression of all aspiring designers and spreading the plague of mediocrity that ironically Michele was trying to critique in his show.
Although I’m arguing that, creatively, everything is allowed in fashion, there definitely exists a line that shouldn’t be crossed. It would be intellectually dishonest of me to say I’ve never found a product or collection gross or disrespectful. However, the fundamental problem with this imaginary line is that it’s impossible to locate objectively, its position length and width are all defined by the individual.
An instance of my subjective line being crossed was last month, when a brand named B.stroy dropped a line of hoodies covered in bullet holes featuring the names of schools targeted by shootings in the U.S. To contrast this from the Gucci incident, these hoodies are distastefully exploiting particular tragic events for media buzz and sales;
There is a lack of design, a lack of creative vision, and ultimately a lack of respect for the mourning families they’re profiting off. Despite my revulsion towards B.stroy’s hoodies I would not make a blanket statement that genocides or tragedies can’t be depicted or used as an influence for a collection.
I think contentious fashion moments have to be looked at case-by-case and always as a form of art, whether its good or bad art is up for you to decide.
Fashion is a means of expression analogous to cinema, TV, literature, dance, painting, and even stand-up comedy. Unfortunately there is a greater emphasis on it being palpable to the public possibly due to the notion that before art, it is a marketable product. This is risky because without complete creative freedom, evolution can’t take place and we’re stuck with designers that would rather blend in with the dull than take some chances and stand out from the rest.
Everything is fashion and fashion is everything. So before you write a twitter rant on how a designer is appropriating a culture, or spreading a hashtag to cancel a brand for portraying a touchy subject, take a pause and analyze your intentions: Are you liberating the fashion world or constraining it?
Written by Oliver Leone from @yourfashionarchive