Taking place in a clinical room with a conveyor belt replacing a traditional runway, the first 60 outfits from yesterday’s Gucci Spring 2020 show showcased a collection of stark utilitarian off-white pieces with oppressive buckles and straps, reminiscent of those found on straight jackets, designed to represent how power is exercised over life and to eliminate self-expression.
Met with apparent protestation on the runway from model and artist Ayesha Tan Jones (aka YaYa Bones) who held up both hands with inky scribbles, reading “Mental Health Is Not Fashion,” followed by an Instagram post stating, “the stigma around mental health must end”, calling Gucci’s use of the imagery both “hurtful and insensitive”, it unearthed a volatile debate of ethics.
In an official statement, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele responded with an explanation of a deeper meaning behind the portrayal of uniforms in the show, “Uniforms, utilitarian clothes, normative dress, including straight jackets, were included in the Gucci SS20 fashion show as the most extreme version of a uniform dictated by society and those who control it.”
Explained further by the brand as a collection that conveys fashion as a way of allowing people to walk through fields of possibilities, cultivate beauty, make diversity sacrosanct and celebrate the self in expression and identity, it was confirmed the pieces were a literal statement of the message and that they will not be sold on the shelves.
Which poses the question – what is fashion without conversation?
Vulnerable, void of emotion and somewhat resembling nothing more than stackable mannequins the models rolled out in a trance-like state.
Instead of music, a confused assemblage of pained voices with words such as, ‘I guess I’m not a standard person’, ‘I’m not easy to love’ and ‘I’m not beautiful’ played somewhat hauntingly over the speakers.
Shocking? Perhaps. Important? Most definitely. To write off the message as solely unethical or satirical would be to wholly miss the point.
Sheikha Majda Al Sabah, who has spoken at length to Vogue Arabia about her own battle with depression is in favor of the movement, no matter the context.
“I think it’s brilliant to spread awareness through fashion, for mental health issues and suicide within the field are common. Models, designers, and professionals are often subject to long hours and high stress in a demanding work setting. To put the spotlight on this critical issue in a place where the world is watching is a smart move in gaining attention. I think we need every platform we can get to remove the stigma from mental health and highlight it and this will certainly start conversations.”
Whether ‘shock tactics’ are used as a tool to drive sales or as a platform to challenge important issues is simply up to the consumer to decide for themselves, for there is no right or wrong way to look at art.
What is clear however, is that unlike so many of his contemporaries in fear of ignoring the need to facilitate mass –commercialism, Michele (like his provocative forefathers and mothers Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and Vivienne Westwood), is here to ensure that fashion has a voice and given more thought that the often trite and fictitious wonderland it is often credited for. What Alessandro is shouting from the rafters is that acceptance is everything. Perfection is an unobtainable fantasy and if we are not honest in voicing that, self–expression alongside empathy and who we are as human beings, is fast becoming redundant.