CLAIRE DELLORTO AND MADDIE MENDELOFF
As one of the most well-known and highly renowned fashion brands in the world, Gucci has become a symbol of luxury. The brand has gained immense stature as it is seen in the media worn by A-list celebrities and fashion moguls. However, with this stature comes a heightened responsibility for political correctness, and Gucci’s equitability has come into question in this area.
During Milan Fashion Week, Gucci sent models sporting straightjacket-inspired looks down the runway for its Spring/Summer 2020 collection. The brand immediately received immense backlash following the show, with arguments that “mental health is not fashion,” and they sparked a broader discussion surrounding the role of mental health in the fashion world. While being offensive to individuals struggling with mental illness was likely not the brand’s intention, it presented as callous and insensitive. The straight jackets made a provocative statement, whether intentional or not, that minimized the severity of the impacts on mental health. Additionally, the straight jackets made a mockery of a tragic time in history, referred to as the “straightjacket era,” when mentally ill patients were restrained against their will in abusive mental institutions. For a major fashion house to present something of this connotation for just a fleeting moment gives them the reputation of being “out of touch: and ignorant of many people’s struggles.
Greatly opposed to this look and presentation on the runway, Ayesha Tan Jones, a 26-year-old nonbinary Gucci model, staged a small but strikingly powerful protest while modeling the collection. Jones showed up to model in the show but bravely walked down the runway with their hands held up containing the writing “mental health is not fashion” across their palms. Jones shared that this act of protest was a last-minute decision that they made after another model in the show walked off the job out of disgust at Gucci’s plans for this collection. They vocalized that “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 in today's capitalist climate is vulgar, unimaginative, and offensive to the millions of people around the world affected by these issues.” Jones added on to say that these straight jackets being produced by a top luxury fashion house only added insult to injury, striking “especially close to home” due to the toxic environment of the modeling industry and the many ways in which it is damaging to one’s mental health.
Gucci responded to this protest and the complaints against the show by stating that the straightjacket clothing items in the collection, as well as uniforms, utilitarian clothes, and normative dress, were made to show an extreme version of a uniform dictated by society and those in control of it. As opposed to apologizing, Gucci denied that this straightjacket was meant to represent mental hospital patients or mental illness and rather dismissed the perceived intention as incorrect. They stood by a statement that it was about restraints and conformity within society above anything else. Gucci then said that the pieces worn in the show were just a statement for the fashion show and were never meant to be sold to consumers. Additionally, Gucci expressed that they felt, especially in this show that was partly based around freedom, that Ayesha Tan Jones should be free to protest, and they were in support of their right to do this during the show.
Despite this scandal, Gucci’s sales and income were not harmed after this fashion show. While Gucci did receive public backlash, it was not strong enough to slow Gucci’s global revenue, which actually rose from $8079.19 million in 2020 when the fashion show took place to $10566.05 million the following year. This large increase in global revenue for Gucci, even following this large and public scandal, highlights the ways in which major fashion houses can continually get away with crossing boundaries of respect and morality, even when their wrongdoings are publicly known.
Amid the opposition Gucci faced as a result of the fashion faux pas, the brand’s creative director Alessandro Michele spoke out, telling the New York Times that for him, the meaning behind the clothing represented “a journey from conformity to freedom and creativity,” and that restrictive clothing (i.e., the straightjacket) was meant to depict society and those who control it. What Michele neglected to consider were the potential implications behind his intended message, which was ultimately lost, sparking an essential question: does intention matter?