Why Gucci Is Facing Backlash for Its Milan Show

When a model at Gucci’s spring ’20 show hit the runway with the words “Mental health is not fashion” written on her palms, a number of Milan Fashion Week attendees were perplexed about the nature of the statement. (“Was this a public service announcement?” wrote FN style director Shannon Adducci.)

As it turns out, the model, Ayesha Tan-Jones, was staging a protest against the luxury brand, explaining in a post shared on Instagram that Gucci’s decision to “use the imagery of straight jackets [sic] and outfits alluding to mental patients” was “vulgar, unimaginative and offensive.”

gucci, spring, 2020
Model Ayesha Tan-Jones on the runway at Gucci spring ’20.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

“As an artist and model who has experienced my own struggles with mental health, as well as family members and loved ones who have been affected by depression, anxiety, bipolar [disorder] and schizophrenia, it is hurtful and insensitive for a major fashion house such as Gucci to use this imagery as a concept for a fleeting fashion moment,” the model wrote in a post.

She added, “It is in bad taste for Gucci to use the imagery of straight jackets and outfits alluding to mental patients, while being rolled out on a conveyor belt as if a piece of factory meat. Presenting these struggles as props for selling clothes is vulgar, unimaginative and offensive to the millions of people around the world affected by these issues.” (Tan-Jones describes herself as a non-binary artist.)

The look also garnered confusion on social media, with a number of users questioning Tan-Jones’ perceived dissent and others criticizing Gucci for the straitjacket-like clothing.

Describing its show, Gucci emphasized that the “uniforms, utilitarian clothes, normative dress, including straitjackets” were designed as a statement to portray “the most extreme version of a uniform dictated by society and those who control it.” The brand explained that the blank-styled pieces — which were among a lineup of nearly 90 outfits — will not be sold.

View this post on Instagram

Uniforms, utilitarian clothes, normative dress, including straitjackets, were included in the #GucciSS20 fashion show as the most extreme version of a uniform dictated by society and those who control it. These clothes were a statement for the fashion show and will not be sold. @alessandro_michele designed these blank-styled clothes to represent how through fashion, power is exercised over life, to eliminate self-expression. This power prescribes social norms, classifying and curbing identity. The Creative Director’s antidote is seen in the Gucci Spring Summer 2020 lineup of 89 looks, he has designed a collection that conveys fashion as a way to allow people to walk through fields of possibilities, cultivate beauty, make diversity sacrosanct and celebrate the self in expression and identity. #AlessandroMichele

A post shared by Gucci (@gucci) on

In an interview with The New York Times, creative director Alessandro Michele reiterated Gucci’s stance, adding, “I wanted to show how society today can have the ability to confine individuality and that Gucci can be the antidote. … These clothes were a statement for the fashion show and part of a performance.” The article added that the company felt Tan-Jones should be free to protest, considering the show depicted “the journey from conformity to freedom and creativity.”

It’s not the first time controversy has clouded the fashion house this year. In February, Gucci apologized and halted the sale of a wool balaclava sweater that was widely said to resemble blackface. (FN has reached out to Gucci for comment.)

This story has been updated with Alessandro Michele’s comments as shared in a New York Times article.

Click through the gallery to see more of Gucci’s spring 2020 show.

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