Illustration by Antonio Hernandez / Courier
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Strike one: Gucci sold a wool balaclava jumper that suspiciously resembled blackface with its pull-over collar. Strike two: the brand capitalized off traditional Sikh turbans with its “Indy Full Head Wrap”. Strike three: its latest clothing collection featured straightjackets and prisonlike sandals. 

The high-end brand’s creative director Alessandro Michele has apologized for the former incidents of insensitivity, but if protests at the recent Milan Fashion Week are any indication, it’s clear that he has yet to learn his lesson. 

Gucci’s Spring Summer 2020 collection showcased models dressed in “uniforms, utilitarian clothes, normative dress, [and] straightjackets” that symbolized “the most extreme version of a uniform dictated by society and those who controlled it,” said the brand in an Instagram post

Artist and model Ayesha Tan-Jones used the runway to make their protests known by holding up their palms that read “Mental health is not fashion.” Tan-Jones mentioned in their own Instagram post that they struggle with mental health and wanted to end the stigma surrounding the topic. They chose to donate 100 percent of their fee to mental health charities, and several other Gucci models pledged to donate a portion of their fees as well. 

Michele released a statement soon after Sunday’s show amidst rising debates. 

“I wanted to show how society can have the ability to confine individuality and that Gucci can be the antidote,” said Michele, “For me, the show was the journey from conformity to freedom and creativity.”

Michele was right to bring more awareness to mental health. The World Health Organization reported that every one in four people worldwide are affected by mental disorders—a fact that Tan-Jones also addressed in their statement. 

However, with big-name brands like Gucci constantly mishandling such sensitive topics, it is no wonder that society has an incredibly severe lack of understanding. Needless to say, his attempt to address the issue did not help the nearly two-thirds of people who do not receive the care that they need due in part to stigma and discrimination. 

Michele capitalized off the suffering and struggles that afflicted individuals experience. His collection will not be sold online, but parading models around a fashion show—on a conveyor belt runway, no less—is certainly not the way to represent what he claims the collection was trying to symbolize. 

“Straightjackets are a symbol of a cruel time in medicine when mental illness was not understood,” said Tan-Jones, “People’s rights and liberties were taken away from them while they were abused and tortured in the institution.”

Though it is clear that Gucci has made the same mistake multiple times, it is not the only fashion brand that has poorly mishandled sensitive topics. 

At New York Fashion Week, rising streetwear label Bstroy presented its Spring 2020 collection

bullet-hole-ridden hoodies with the names of schools that were the sites of mass shootings, such as Stoneman Douglas and Virginia Tech. 

These fashion brands exploited moments of tragedy and sickness as a means of profit to further their companies. It should go without saying that there are plenty of other ways to bring awareness to such issues.

London based fashion label Lazy Oafs launched an anti-stigma campaign with their collection “It’s OK to not be OK” to facilitate healthy discussions about mental health disorders. The collection is in collaboration with UK-based non-profit Time to Change, which aims to end mental health discrimination. The brand promised to donate 100 percent of its earnings to the organization. 

Whatever message Michele was attempting to project with the new Gucci collection, it was completely careless, callous, and uncalled for. Though he had good intentions, the creative director clearly needs to think before he creates. He needs to take a page out of Lazy Oafs’s book; rather than glamorize the discussion of mental health, normalize it.

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