Gucci’s Diversity Drag – The New York Times


Photo

Gucci’s campaign, called “Soul Scene,” is designed to look like a late-1960s black dance party.

In January, Gucci teased its 2017 pre-fall campaign with a series of Instagram videos in which it asked black models, “What does it mean to have soul?” It appeared that Gucci was making a statement on industry diversity, and the online response was, understandably, effusive — largely because of the industry’s long history of racial myopia. After all, while 2016 was, in many ways, fashion’s most inclusive year yet, some recent Gucci campaigns have been exclusively white.

Now the campaign, called “Soul Scene,” featuring only black models and dancers and designed to look like a late-1960s black dance party, is here. But while at first blush it seems like genuine cultural inclusion, a refreshing gesture from an international label, whose soul is it selling?

Photo

Gucci calls the campaign “an exploration of the flamboyance and self-expression of men and women who challenge the conventions of society through performance, art and dance.”

The look of the campaign is vibrant, energetic, joyful, even. But something’s off. Like a recipe — say for the soul food staple macaroni and cheese — that is missing a secret ingredient, the campaign leaves a funny taste in your mouth.

The fact is, putting a group of black people wearing vibrant clothing in a room and asking them to dance does not a revolution make. Especially when it has to be framed in the look of revolution 50 years past in order to be acceptable.

While the campaign purports to celebrate black soul, it smacks of performance rather than genuine homage. Is it offensive? Not really. Is it appropriation? Well, there’s the rub. It would be if the ads included the culture. Instead, Gucci presents a reverent, painstakingly-recreated facsimile of a culture. More than anything, the campaign is about the look.

Photo

This campaign, while unlike many recent ones by Gucci that have been exclusively white, is not without its critics.

It’s just drag. This is soul as drag.

Gucci calls the campaign “an exploration of the flamboyance and self-expression of men and women who challenge the conventions of society through performance, art and dance.” It cites as inspiration the work of the Malian artist Malick Sidibé and the Northern Soul movement in 1960s Britain. Shot by Glen Luchford, the images have a gritty filter and a slight sepia tint. They look, almost, like the real thing. Almost.

One couldn’t blame you for being fooled. There is a cheap, mylar curtain in the background and linoleum on the floors. Someone has hung a printed bedsheet up as a de facto backdrop. Are you sure this isn’t your Aunt Marva’s wild birthday party in 1967? Black faces smile widely in the photos; people are doing splits and kicks with wild abandon. This sure looks like soul, right?

And what does having soul really mean? Perhaps it’s just about the music. Northern Soul was an up-tempo offshoot of black American soul music. Its fans preferred lesser known artists to the traditional Motown sound. The case could be made that what feels off about this campaign is actually a reflection of a specific subset of a wide-ranging culture.

Then again, in the video Gucci posted on Instagram to celebrate the start of the campaign, the models are dancing to “The Night” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The Jersey Boys are a lot of things but they’re not soul. In this instance, the music is in service of the image, rather than the other way around.

Even the early audition videos showed a strange willingness to smash authentic expression together with carefully scripted postures in service of a concept. Not to mention the awkwardness of asking black models to display their facial profiles, name their spirit animals and dance on command. Is this soul? What, actually, is this? It’s part of an audition, of course, but the minute a brand puts the footage online as part of a marketing campaign it loses even the appearance of being benign.

The campaign is commodity, not culture. It looks like us, but it is not us. There is no thread count on black joy. I’m reminded of the ’90s pushback against the FUBU line. FUBU stands for For Us, By Us, a simple statement made by the label’s black founders that staked a claim and drew a perimeter that offended some white cultural commentators. “Why does this have to be for you? Why can’t I have it, too?” some asked. Similar questions seem to be at the heart of the new Gucci campaign.

In 1970, Gil Scott-Heron recorded “Comment No. 1,” in which he excoriated a largely white radical movement that tried to embrace blackness while fundamentally misunderstanding black life. “What does Webster’s say about soul?” he mused archly. Mr. Scott-Heron’s question is a coincidental but telling precursor to the one Gucci would pose to its models, and consumers, nearly 50 years later. What does it mean to have soul? If you have to ask, you haven’t found it yet.

Continue reading the main story



Source link

About admin

Check Also

Can Parents ‘Robot-Proof’ Their Child’s Job Future?

But that job is suddenly looking iffy as A.I. gets better at reading scans. A ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *