By Rikkaya Wilson
Gucci’s new Pre-Fall campaign, which includes all black models, is being met with some scathing criticism. The campaign titled “Soul Scene” features a group of effervescent people of color dancing, smiling, and seemingly having the time of their life. The Gucci creative director and designer, Alessandro Michele, explained that the collection is inspired by Malian artist and photographer, Malick Sidibe, and the Northern Soul movement of Britain that occurred in the 1960’s. The clothes themselves will give you a flashy night at the disco. A very Donna Summers meets cast of “The Get Down” type feel. The question that comes to mind though is, “Is this exploitation or is this inclusion?”
In December, US casting director James Scully called out the industry for bullying, cruelty, and racial discrimination at model castings. According to “Business of Fashion”, Scully gave Gucci “two thumbs down” for lack of diversity. So the reality of this photo shoot, with regards to exploitation of black culture is questionable. Behind the scenes there was a white photographer directing and taking photos of black smiling faces “shucking and jiving” in clothes designed by a white creative director. Are the black models in the campaign simply there to act as figureheads, making it seem like the brand isn’t racist? Many feel that if Gucci genuinely wanted to be inclusive, they wouldn’t have just used black models for attention, they would have had black people working from the sketchpad, through the creative process, and finally behind and in front of the camera to portray a truly black vision.
Before the “Soul Scene” spread was even released, the Italian fashion brand posted videos to their social media of an interviewer asking the models what it meant to have soul, who their spirit animal was, and having them demonstrating their dance abilities. That left a bad taste in some viewer’s mouths. “This whole #guccicampaign is giving me a ‘dance monkey dance’ vibe,” one outspoken viewer tweeted. “What kind of coonery…” another tweeted. The videos were definitely a bit too much and continued a long history of blacks being used for entertainment.
However, the brand could have genuinely been trying to be inclusive. Sure, they should have had black people behind the scenes too but this isn’t cultural appropriation. They didn’t have a bunch of white models walking around in bell-bottoms and afros claiming that they were “inspired by the 60s and 70s.” The campaign used people of color. Also, let’s be real, often times in the fashion industry black people that are chosen are usually either very light skinned or very dark skinned and made to be oiled up to give them a “high fashion” sort of look. In this campaign they used people of color of all shades which is kind of a big deal.
Additionally, the new Gucci campaign may have come after being called out which make the efforts seem disingenuous but think back to how many times companies have been called out for being racist and continued their racist behavior. That number is tenfold the number of companies that get called out for being racist and actually make an effort to change. I know what you’re thinking “That doesn’t mean they should be rewarded for doing what should be done anyway!” That’s true, but Gucci should be given a chance to prove themselves and start the shift to a more inclusive fashion industry.
It’s obvious that this campaign is problematic. However, Gucci, Versace, Prada, Fendi –the list goes on and on — are all names found in black households. We rock Louis V belts, carry Michael Kors purses and flex in Versace shirts but want to complain when these brands don’t reach our expectations. The real problem is they know that they don’t have to fully connect with the black buyer because the black buyer will continue to buy regardless. If black buyers want to see full representation in the fashion industry, we have to start supporting black designers, black fashion companies, and pay attention to black advertising.
The Gucci campaign was both a hit and a miss in multiple ways but it’s not too late to make some changes. The campaign, along with James Scully’s criticism, opened the door to a much needed conversation about racism in the fashion industry whether it be using people of color as muses, models, or being included in processes from beginning to end. Hopefully the industry answers with inclusion done the right way and not in a way that exploits another race.
What do you think about Gucci’s Pre-Fall campaign? Did you love it or hate it?