Gucci model stages mental health protest at Milan fashion week

If fashion is a reflection of the times it is little wonder that the current round of shows have often felt discombobulating.

Gucci’s show on Sunday night was was particularly surreal, opening with a series of models being propelled along a conveyor belt catwalk, staring bleakly ahead, wearing a high fashion take on straitjackets.

However, in an intervention that a press officer confirmed was not planned, one of the models held up their hands on which the words “mental health is not fashion” had been written, in an apparent protest. The model later posted a video from the show on their Instagram feed.

Some attendees, such as the actor and model Hari Nef, defended the show’s concept. She wrote on Instagram: “It was more a provocative reminder of submission than a glamorisation of insanity.”

Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, said at a press conference afterwards that he had been thinking “about humanity and uniforms. A uniform is something that blocks and constrains you – that makes you anonymous. That makes you follow the direction of travel.” The straitjacket, he said, was “the highest type of uniform”.

A Gucci spokesperson said the uniforms and straitjackets “were a statement for the fashion show and will not be sold”.

The brand’s notoriously philosophical press notes dug into the concept further, referencing Michel Foucault, “biopolitics” and “the ‘microphysics of powers’ that molecularly operates inside society … a power that legitimises only some existences, confining the others inside a regime of containment and/or invisibility”.

Mental health campaigners might point out that people who have mental health issues and live on the margins of society could relate to that experience.

This was the brand’s first ready-to-wear show after the damaging backlash against a sweater whose design looked distressingly like blackface. Gucci pulled the item, apologised unreservedly and has appointed a diversity chief. Something safe and uncontroversial might have been expected.

After that opening tableau – which was searingly lit – the audience was plunged into darkness. Then the lights flickered on and the main collection was shown. This was a pared-back take on the maximalist dressing up box aesthetic that has made Gucci such a behemoth. It was stripped back, relatively speaking, with a few outfits only comprising – say – a pair of boots, a pair of trousers and a shirt, or 70s-style flared suits with a rollback underneath.

The collection was designed to celebrate individuality and did so with some beautiful dresses, such as one turquoise floor-length number, mismatched trainers – one foot neon yellow, one foot pink – which look to be a surefire commercial hit, and glasses with unexpectedly thick “geek chic” chains. In a further controversial touch there were anklets and bracelets that looked like bullet casings.

The impressive front row – Sienna Miller and Iggy Pop were among the sparkly Gucci-clad crowd – stood to applaud as Michele took his bow.

This was also the brand’s first carbon-neutral show, with attendants’ carbon dioxide emissions offset and the set to be reused in shops. Earlier this month Gucci promised to become an entirely carbon-neutral company. Its CEO, Marco Bizzarri, said the brand had considered rethinking fashion shows altogether, but felt technology was not yet sufficiently advanced to replace the practice.

In the press conference, Michele said: “The fashion show is truly a great occasion. It’s like going to the theatre to see a play – you are either there or you have not seen it. We all have iPhones but nobody can really tell you what it was like.”


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