Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 October 2019

'Mental health is not fashion': Gucci's straitjacket-inspired pieces trigger runway protest

One model seized the opportunity to demonstrate on the catwalk

Model Ayesha Tan Jones staged a protest on the Gucci spring summer 2020 runway, with hands that read, 'Mental health is not fashion'. Getty Images 
Model Ayesha Tan Jones staged a protest on the Gucci spring summer 2020 runway, with hands that read, 'Mental health is not fashion'. Getty Images 

Last night's Gucci spring / summer 2020 runway show in Milan saw creative director Alessandro Michele begin in an entirely new way.

Although best known for audacious colour clashing and fearless combinations of prints, Michele – once again – threw a metaphorical spanner into the works by doing the exact opposite of what we all expected.

Instead of opening with a blaze of colour sailing down the runway, the audience was instead treated to conveyor belts, down which all-white clad models glided, motionless. With belts, buckles and cuts reminiscent of straitjackets, and under glaring-white neon strip lights, it brought to mind bleak mental health institutes such as the one portrayed in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

A model wears a straight jacket inspired look for Gucci Spring/Summer 2020 fashion show during Milan Fashion Week on September 22, 2019 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Victor Boyko/Getty Images for Gucci)
A model wears a straitjacket-inspired look for Gucci's spring / summer 2020 fashion show during Milan Fashion Week on Sunday, September 22, 2019 in Milan, Italy. Getty Images

One model, however, took the opportunity to protest, holding up her hands to reveal the scrawled message, "Mental health is not fashion".

Model Ayesha Tan Jones later took to social media to state that “it is in bad taste for Gucci to use the imagery of straitjackets and outfits alluding to mental patients, while being rolled out on a conveyor belt as if a piece of factory meat.”

She continued “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 and schizophrenia, it is hurtful and insensitive for a major fashion house such as Gucci to use this imagery for a fleeting fashion moment.”

The brand confirmed the protest was not orchestrated by them, and immediately released a statement explaining of the opening that “uniforms, utilitarian clothes, normative dress, including straitjackets, were included in the Gucci SS20 fashion show as the most extreme version of a uniform dictated by society and those who control it.”

A model wears a straight jacket inspired look at the Gucci Spring/Summer 2020 fashion show during Milan Fashion Week. Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for Gucci
A model wears a straitjackets inspired look at the Gucci spring / summer 2020 fashion show during Milan Fashion Week. Getty Images

“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," the brand continued in its statement.

"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."

That this furore comes soon after the backlash Gucci faced for appropriating turbans and selling balaclava’s bordering on blackface, (which saw Gucci appoint a diversity chief to avoid such indiscretions) will be embarrassing for the brand, and is now overshadowing what was a very beautiful show.

Following the straitjackets, the venue was plunged into darkness, before the second wave of models swept past in 1970s-era two-tone split dresses, enormous glasses on even bigger chains and male models in mismatched trainers, which is surely a look that everyone will now be copying.

By Michele's standards, this show was pared-back and almost restrained, putting the focus back on the individual clothes, that included double breasted skirt suits for women, and endless new takes on the Gucci check.

It was an intelligent, well thought out collection stemming from a genuine desire by Michele to move beyond the norm and continue to challenge expectations. Sadly, that message will now be lost in the latest storm to engulf the brand.

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See highlights from Gucci's spring / summer 2020 show here:

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Updated: September 23, 2019 12:07 PM

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