Gucci bet on Black for their pre-Fall 2017 collection, in what seemed to be an excellent example of white allyship, wherein white folks were unapologetically committed to supporting and uplifting people of color.
The collection appeared to feature designs inspired by Black culture and include multiple models of color. For a fleeting moment, it even seemed that the unrequited love affair Black people has had with Gucci for decades was finally being reciprocated.
And yet, in Trump’s America, we should have seen the disappointment coming. Now, it’s been made clear that Gucci’s latest attempt at inclusivity was, more than anything, insensitivity.
It began in January, with Gucci releasing a series of videos to their millions of Instagram followers, showing behind-the-scenes footage of the model casting for their most recent campaign. One thing was the same for all of the models, and it wasn’t their slim figures: they were all Black.
Initially, it sounded like an incredible call for inclusion, until you heard the questions asked of the models. They were questions dripping in stereotypes.
Among the inquiries asked of the models were: “What’s your spirit animal?,” “How long have you danced for?” and “What does it mean to have soul?”
In a few words, there it was. Black people were once again treated as a commodity, capable of generating tons of money and buzz, but given no respect.
Gucci continued its parade of using our culture to sell their clothes, laden with Black and Chinese influence. Upon seeing the campaign, it became clear: they HAD to use Black models in order to pull off the poses, dances and details that were steeped in global Black culture. And so, Gucci recognized a moment to achieve a lucrative marketing move: an “all Black campaign,” no doubt complete with execs giving themselves a white man pat on the back.
Alessandro Michele, the current Creative Director at Gucci, stated in a press release, that the collection was inspired by an exhibit entitled, ‘Made You Look,’ at the Photographer’s Gallery in London. The exhibit featured the work of Malick Sidibé, focusing on Black masculinity and dandyism. This decision to be “inspired” by Black culture came shortly after Gucci was publicly scolded by James Scully, a major casting director in the fashion industry, who told Business Of Fashion in an exclusive report,
“It’s time you really investigate what these people are doing on behalf of your company…Gucci gets two thumbs down for lack of diversity.”
And yet, there was more. At their Gucci Cruise 2018 collection, the fashion house released a puff sleeve jacket that had most of the fashion industry applauding its innovation and seeming freshness.
But the jacket was actually a near complete copy of Harlem fashion icon, Dapper Dan, a fact pointed out by fashion insiders familiar with his incredible body of innovative work. The Gucci puff jacket was a piece that Dapper Dan created in 1989, utilizing Louis Vuitton logo.
And, like so many true artists who threaten the status quo, Dapper Dan’s Harlem boutique was SUED out of business by high fashion designer labels, who were upset with his personalization of their designs.
True to form, only after the brand was called out did they throw up a post on social media paying “homage” and introducing their 15M+ followers to the greatness that is Dapper Dan.
One has to wonder, would they have considered this if they hadn’t gotten caught on their fraudulent behavior? Furthermore, it’s hard to believe that the fashion house was thinking of anything other than poaching his work. If they had truly seen him as inspiration, one would think they would have incorporated him into the show, or paid him for creative direction. The New York Times reported that Dapper Dan is in talks to collaborate with Gucci, but ashamedly only after this mishap. At the very least, they could have invited the fashion icon to attend the show front row.
Inspiration, lauded in social media posts, isn’t enough – if you’re going to take from us, you need to help us build wealth too.
It’s robbery for these high fashion companies and larger companies to take inspiration from smaller brands and companies that don’t have the financial backing and platform to compete at the same level. We’ve seen it time and again,on differing levels of culture vulturism.
In 1967, Yves Saint Laurent debuted his “African and Safari Collection,” drawing inspiration from a trip to the motherland. Upon his return, he created beautiful designs that were beaded, feathered, and tribal-ed out. While he did use some Black models, the campaign model was Twiggy (the whitest white woman that he could probably find).
It continues today in modern cases such as Zara taking from Aurora James, to Valentino utilizing the Masai Tribe of Kenya for their Spring/Summer 2016 collection that was, as defined by Valentino’s twitter page, “primitive, tribal, spiritual, yet regal.”
But what does actual true allyship and inclusivity in the fashion industry look like? Zac Posen proved himself to be a wonderful example when he cast mainly Black models for his Fall 2016 fashion show in an attempt to highlight the inequalities of the industry and take a stand against the lack of diversity on the runway. He even championed the ‘Black Models Matter,’ handbag, created by Black model, Ashley Chew, who is also an artist.
As for Gucci, while they may have given credit to Dapper Dan after the fact, their efforts fall short, to say the very least. It’s on us to stop giving applause for basic shit that should have been done in the beginning.
Celebrities like Beyoncé, who recently wore a $22K Gucci kimono and is known to wear the brand often, need to stop empowering these brands and place pressure on the fashion houses for inclusion. It’s not enough if only YOU have a seat at the table and a check to deposit in your bank account.
If Gucci wants to correct their fraudulent behavior, Dapper Dan needs to be a Co-Creative Director or included in a true collaboration (a la Rihanna style with Manolo Blahnik). The brand not only owes him millions of dollars, but a great deal of respect as well.