“You can’t put culture in a box,” the creative director of Gucci says.
gucci pre-fall 2017
Last month, Gucci released its pre-fall campaign, "Soul Scene." The campaign, inspired by the work of Malian artist Malick Sidibé, was centered on an all-black cast of models dressed in outfits referencing the Northern Soul movement of 1960s England. Alessandro Michele — the creative director who turned Gucci into a millennial-flavored mix of gender-bending, diversity, and dizzying pop-culture references — responded to the critics who accused the brand of cultural appropriation in a new interview.
In a chat with Robin Givhan at The Washington Post, touching on everything from Kellyanne Conway's heavily mocked Gucci coat to diversity in Europe, Michele defended his sincere intentions. "I wanted to talk about . . . the way that black people are so [attentive to] the way they look," Michele said to explain the contentious campaign. "Everything was perfect: the hair, the details of the dress."
Michele's personal obsessions always find their way into his work. For the spring/summer 17 Gucci collection, Donald Duck was a consistent motif - appearing on everything from $700 high tops to $3,000 bags. The motif, paired with East Asian designs, was inspired by Michele's childhood. The Italian designer grew up watching cartoons of the Disney character traveling across the globe on his steamboat.
The "Soul Scene" campaign also appeared to be plucked straight from Michele's interests. "I'm attracted to the black culture because of the freedom," he said in the new interview. "You see it in a lot of singers. A$AP Rocky, he's the result of what I'm talking about. He loves to look different."
Critics of the "Soul Scene" campaign argued that the photos did not feel authentic. Writing for The New York Times, R. Eric Thomas went so far as to call the photos "diversity drag."
Michele explained his intentions to Givhan as such: "The appropriation can be the beginning of a new story," he said. "I know we want to keep everything [for ourselves], everything that is beautiful in [our] culture. I didn't want to steal nothing. Culture is something that is fluid. You can't put culture in a box."
Text André-Naquian Wheeler