Gucci started its flirtation with black culture last spring when it teased out a Glen Luchford series showing off an all-brown cast swivelling hips, posing, and swinging on the dance floor in embroidered denim, sequinned bomber jackets and leather tracksuits for the label’s pre-fall 2017 campaign. The images are filtered in a late sixties era vibe reminiscent of Malick Sidibe (credited with the inspiration). Gucci’s designer Alessandro Michele titled it “Soul Scene.”
In its Cruise 2018 runway show, the label doubled down on its wade in the black culture pool by knocking off an iconic balloon sleeved logo mink and leather jacket originally designed by Harlem-based Dapper Dan. The public cried appropriation, plagiarism, and thievery in a firestorm of backlash.
Cue damage control and somehow Gucci got Beyoncé — a top shelf black celebrity — to wear said jacket, and then they enact a we-love-black-people crusade that saw Alessandro Michele dancing on the streets of Harlem and proclaiming “I love the black community. I think they have a big voice in terms of fashion.” Completing the full court press assault, Dapper Dan is then extended a collaboration deal to reopen his studio (shuttered fifteen years earlier due to disputes with such corporations regarding copyright infringement of designer logos), incorporating Gucci fabrics in his original creations. The deal was further sweetened with a planned capsule collection set to launch next spring and Dapper Dan doing a turn in Gucci’s current A/W 2017 tailoring campaign. The outrage seems to have quelled. So now what?
It seems only fitting that Gucci which has never really had an inclusive mandate finally adds some melanin to their roster. In addition to occupying the number one spot for name-checked brands in hip-hop music; Gucci’s renaissance has landed big, literally on the backs of black community from Lagos to the ATL; it’s Gucci down to the socks for anyone concerned with style cred.
On the surface the wild multicultural dynamism coupled with the campy, magpie clothes – mashing up eras and cultures – is exactly the fire starter that’s catapulting Gucci in this Alessandro Michele era and aiding in its effort to stay on trend. It’s an important sight to see. But the discomfort from some of the imagery and the choices the house has made in their giddy approach to black culture is that it lacks a credible ‘we’re with you, we celebrate you’ feeling. Rather it smacks of blacks as performers with shit-eating grins, exciting and entertaining their white superiors. There’s nothing wrong with depicting blacks as performers if we’re in on and help to shape the narrative. The results will surely be more authentic.
Writer Lainey Sidell in addressing this Gucci debacle in a BET.com article offers this observation, “Until fashion brings more sincerity to these fleeting sentiments — involving POCs (people of color) in the creative process, actively working to appeal to POCs — the half-hearted efforts will continue to fall flat in the eyes of the people they are trying to appeal to.” She continues, “We appreciate the effort, Gucci. Try again next time.”
For the rest of us, trying again means bringing a diverse representation to executive corridors and to the boardroom. Gucci, we appreciate that you’ve started to include more people of color in your advertising imagery. It doesn’t matter that some of those changes have come about in no small parts due to a shaming at a Business of Fashion conference, imploring for improvements to be made. We adore casting director and key messenger James Scully’s effort in the fight. But it’s not lost on us that it took a white man to get your attention on the subject. Still, we’ll take it. We also value your move to clean up the Dapper Dan situation, here too only after much outrage. Michele stated in the New York Times, “I understand that I am putting my hands in a kind of very delicate playground, the black community.” But we ask, have you made the move to institute any meaningful placement of people of color in the executive branch of your organization, particularly in the company’s nerve center in Milan? And with so many black celebrities wearing and promoting the clothes, where are the black executives marketing, liaising and communicating with this audience? In short, have you employed in any significant way (and not only with a view to avoid future messaging fiascos) but to honor this community that honors your label every day with their purchases?