During Gucci’s Spring/Summer 2020 fashion show in Milan, Ayesha Tan-Jones, the non-binary model, took a stand against the brands use of straitjackets by simply holding up their hands. Imprinted on their palms in pen was the statement “MENTAL HEALTH IS NOT FASHION”, whilst wearing a white Gucci pantsuit. The show had incorporated a uniform inspired range with some pieces resembling straitjackets.
The silent protester shared a video via their Instagram with a statement about the reasons behind the protest.
They explain “I believe, as many of my fellow models do, that the stigma around mental health must end. As an artist and model who has experienced my own struggles with mental health, as well as family members and loved ones who have been affected by depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia, it is hurtful and insensitive for a major fashion house such as Gucci to use imagery as a concept for a fleeting fashion moment.”
In addition to this, the Gucci model also donated catwalk fee to a mental health charity.
After being accused of using mental health struggles to sell clothes, Gucci were quick to respond via a post on their social media. The brand defended the show by saying that the jackets were meant to be a ‘statement’. The creative director, Alessandro Michele, spoke out by commenting how “for [him] the show was a journey of conformity to freedom and creativity.” Although, they did go on to state that the items would not be sold due to the backlash.
Notably, earlier this year, the label had to withdraw a balaclava jumper selling at $890 that covered the chin and mouth, with red lips lining the cut out, after accusations it resembled blackface. Blackface dates back more than 200 years in the United States and has a history of executing racist stereotypes of African Americans.
The brand has argued that the straitjackets were included to represent the ‘most extreme version of a uniform dictated by society and those who control it’. A supporter of the protest went to Instagram to debate this statement by suggesting that straitjackets ‘have been used to oppress our most vulnerable people, and fashion continues to oppress so many people’ which is a contradiction to Gucci’s comment as they are suggesting that the label are the ones to ‘oppress’.
It is not surprising that a jacket that restrained patients who were viewed as ‘untruly and dangerous’ due to mental illness, received backlash. The straitjacket was invented in Paris 1790 and is arguably a symbol of a cruel time in history where there was an extreme lack of understanding towards mental health issues. Due to this lack of understanding, people were abused and had all their human rights stripped from them.
Social media response
However, there were in fact supporters of Gucci suggesting that Ayesha’s actions were questionable and that the motivation behind the protest may not have been ‘genuine’. One individual asked the question that Ayesha is ‘now excluding fashion design from speaking about mental health?’ and that they ‘deserve the right to dystopian themes’.
It is safe to say that there has been a huge amount of controversy about the Spring/Summer show depending on perspective, but isn’t that what fashions all about, perspective?