Gucci courted controversy at Milan Fashion Week, where its showcase of upcoming spring and summer fashions featured models walking down a moving runway wearing white utilitarian-inspired looks—including a gown reminiscent of a straitjacket.
This led model Ayesha Tan-Jones to stage a rare protest on the runway by holding up their palms, on which they’d written “Mental health is not fashion.” The model elaborated further in an Instagram post, writing about their own battle with mental illness, as well as their family and loved ones’ struggles with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
“It is in bad taste for Gucci to use the imagery of straitjacket and outfits alluding to mental patients, while being rolled out on a conveyor belt as if a piece of factory meat,” Tan-Jones wrote.
Gucci also took to Instagram to explain the concept of the show: The uniforms, utilitarian items and straitjacket were created for the purpose of making a statement about societal control, and not intended for sale.
In the fashion house’s official statement, creative director Alessandro Michele said he created the gowns to showcase “the most extreme version of uniform dictated by society and those who control it.”
Controversies surrounding high-end fashion brands are not new. In the past, Gucci has faced accusations of cultural appropriation, while a Dolce and Gabbana ad featuring chopsticks caused outrage in China and Burberry designed a hoodie that looked like a noose hanging around the wearer’s neck.
When asked about the intentions behind these polarizing designs, Mary Zalla, global president of consumer brands at brand consultancy Landor, explained that runway shows are meant to provoke a response—specifically, an emotional one. “Given that, it’s not surprising that sometimes, designers might unwittingly, with no ill intention,
Zalla also expressed how causing controversy can be productive. “In some ways, some good might come out of this because we talk about almost every health issue in the world today very openly,” she said. “But mental health issues are often still not talked about, so maybe that’s the silver lining here, and maybe some good can potentially come out of it.”