Oscar Wilde once claimed that ‘Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months’. This statement rings painfully true with the luxury fashion house Gucci after recently being accused of blackface following the release of a turtleneck jumper. While the design was pulled from the brands website shortly after complaints surfaced online, these events show the worrying trend within fashion of cultural appropriation. In recent years, brands such as Dolce & Gabbana and Prada, as well as celebrities such as Katy Perry, have removed items from their stores for the same issues. It seems that these brands are disconnected with the real issues that their products can represent.
Gucci’s brand has been the fantasy Italian lifestyle since its conception and has always sought to push the boundaries of classic elegance. However, their actions this week indicate the issues surrounding the need to reinvent and constantly churn out new ideas. The expansion of online stores such as ASOS and advancing technology means that styles are constantly changing, and new designs can be taken from conception to sales floor within two weeks. Gone are the days of Wilde where fashion changed twice a year, in some shops like H&M this can now be done as much as twice a week. But while this throwaway culture can satisfy the Instagram need for new products, it forces major brands to move away from their traditional styles into something more modern to compete. What was acceptable 30 years ago now has no place in our ever changing consumer culture. This has therefore forced large brands to be increasingly radical and unique to be noticed in this marketplace, with brands such as Alexander McQueen routinely producing collections intended to shock rather than be worn day to day.
This, however, doesn’t excuse Gucci’s actions in the slightest, especially since blackface claims have been levied against its main competitor Prada for producing keyrings resembling monkeys with the same exaggerated red lips. Both products were criticised for resembling Sambo dolls – racist toys that represented servitude – indicating that some awareness must have been known before the collections were released. Personally, it is hard to believe that this was done intentionally, but it shows quite an oversight on Gucci’s part and the lack of understanding amongst the industry. Brands like them set a standard for the rest of the industry to follow, and, quite frankly, not to recognise the problems with this design are questionable at best. To the consumer, the mistakes are obvious, this mistake being especially ironic due to it occurring in Black History Month, showing the disconnect that these brands have with their target market. Do we want fashion to keep being new and inventive? Absolutely, hence why there will always be a need for Topshop. What must be avoided is this process happening at the expense of a certain demographic.
So where do we go from here? Most importantly high-profile brands such as Gucci need to realise how products can be interpreted and how they fit into social histories, and be aware of the mistakes made by other brands. Next, they should re-examine their selling point and return to it rather than feeling the need to constantly change themselves: we buy Gucci for the Italian fantasy, not for ground-breaking edginess. And finally, we need to continue to hold companies like this accountable, because they affect all aspects of the industry, especially those below it.