Although Gucci has soared in popularity and sales since Alessandro Michele took over the helm in January 2015, the brand’s success has slowed this year—both in terms of social media and economic dominance. After two years of wild economic growth, Gucci is now, as Business of Fashion puts it, “behaving like a normal brand.”
Gucci is no longer driving growth for its parent company Kering as it once did. (And fair enough—it’s hard for a brand to stay on top indefinitely.) Its media value has decreased as well, as you’ll see in the chart below.
What we can’t help but wonder is whether the brand’s relentless controversies this year have affected its performance. While Gucci thrives on being provocative—a trait that Michele clearly encourages—the brand has a penchant for taking things a little too far. Let’s revisit Gucci’s major missteps and controversies to assess how its standing in the public eye may have changed over the course of this year.
February 2019 – “Blackface” Sweater
This was perhaps the most serious of the controversies this year. Gucci released an $890 sweater from its Fall 2018 Ready-to-Wear collection on its website in February, and outrage immediately followed. The “Black Balaclava Sweater” was accused of blackface on account of its cartoonish red lips around the mouth cut-out.
The brand issued an official apology shortly after the release (below), and also announced measures to encourage cultural diversity and awareness within the company.
And CEO Marco Bizzarri told WWD that “this is due to the ignorance of this matter. Certainly, it was not intentional, but this is not an excuse. We make mistakes, and certain [ones] are worse than others because they offend people.”
May 2019 – Sikh Cultural Appropriation
In May, Gucci released a headscarf named “Indy Full Turban” for $780. As expected, backlash followed. There was some controversy around the cultural appropriation when the turban debuted on white models at Milan Fashion Week in February, but it only worsened when Gucci went ahead and sold it a few months later.
The Sikh Coalition tweeted on May 15, “The Sikh turban is not a fashion accessory, but it’s also a sacred religious article of faith. We hope more can be done to recognize this critical context. #appropriation.”
Nordstrom, which sold the turban, changed the name of the piece after initial backlash, according to WWD, to “Indy Full Head Wrap” before taking it down completely. INSIDER reports that Nordstrom “offered their sincere apologies.”
Unlike the brand’s response to its blackface misstep, Gucci did not formally apologize or comment on the controversy.
September 2019 – Gucci Ankle Monitor
In Gucci’s Spring/Summer 2020 show in Milan last month, the brand debuted an anklet that looks similar to a house arrest monitor, with what appeared to be golden bullets strapped in.
The “bullets” turned out to be tubes of Gucci lipstick, but critics were still dismayed to find house arrest, a form of incarceration, being turned into fashion.
September 2019 – Gucci Straitjacket
In the same Spring/Summer 2020 show, Gucci presented models wearing white straitjackets, which clearly resembled the clothing worn in an institution.
Model Ayesha Tan Jones, who walked the show, protested on the catwalk, holding up her hands with the message “Mental Health is Not Fashion” on her palms. It sparked a broader internet conversation on whether Gucci had taken things too far.
As Fortune reported, these outfits were the “most extreme version of a uniform dictated by society and those who control it,” according to Gucci. Michele designed “these blank-styled clothes to represent how through fashion, power is exercised over life, to eliminate self-expression.”
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Hello ✨ I just want to say Thank You for all the support so many of you have given me since I lifted my hands in peaceful protest on the Gucci Runway show yesterday 💖 I feel very blessed to be surrounded by supportive comrades, and to know that there are so many people sharing support online for this action ✊🏽 I want to use this opportunity to remind people that this sort of bravery, is only a simple gesture compared to the bravery that people with mental health issues show everyday. To have the bravery to get out of bed, to greet the day, and to live their lives is an act of strength, and I want to thank you for being here and being YOU ! ☀️ The support people have shown to my act is more than I could imagine, so I only trust that we will share this same support to our friends, siblings, loved ones, acquaintances, internet friends or even strangers, who might be going through tough times with their Mental Health. Showing up for them may come in many forms, check in via text or DM, listen to them with patience and without judgement, offer a helping hand with household tasks like food shop, cooking or cleaning, regularly remind them how amazing and strong they are, but also that is okay feel the feels too, Lets show up for people with mental health and help end the stigma together !🌻 Many of the other Gucci models who were in the show felt just as strongly as I did about this depiction of straightjackets, and without their support I would not have had the courage to walk out and peacefully protest. Some have chosen to donate a portion their fee, and I 100% of mine, to mental health charities, who are doing amazing work for people today! Below are tags to some amazing charities that I encourage, if you have the resources and capacity to, please donate in any way you can, and in my linktree ( in bio ) is a google doc to websites for more charities ! <3 Also, please comment any other Mental Health organisations globally you would like to support and share, as my resources are UK/US based currently 💫 blessings, love & rage – Ayesha / YaYa 🌈 ✨ ✨ ✨ @projectlets @mindcharity @mermaidsgender @qtpocmentalhealth @stonewalluk @switchboardlgbt @lgbtswitchboard @papyrus_uk
Which of the controversies do you think are the most serious? And do you believe they’ve affected Gucci’s performance over the year?
Last quarter, growth slowed significantly for Gucci, but tomorrow (October 24), Kering will report its results for the new quarter. We’ll be keeping our eyes glued to the financial news to see whether things are looking up—or not—for the brand that endlessly courts controversy.
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