Gucci Teases Ad-Campaign Audition Videos Featuring Only Black Models
Groundbreaking or opportunistic?
Gucci's Alessandro Michele has broken plenty of ground in the industry since assuming his role as creative director of the Italian fashion house in 2015, unleashing a well spring of vivacious color and a nerd-chic aesthetic that has opened the doors to a new era in fashion.
His next project, it appears, is tackling fashion's diversity problem head-on. On Thursday, Gucci teased on Instagram audition videos for its pre-fall advertising campaign. The Cut reports the auditions were conducted in London by Midland Agency, which has worked with such genre-breaking brands as Eckhaus Latta (which memorably cast Lena Dunham's little sister in its spring 2016 show), Junya Watanabe and Hood by Air.
The Instagram posts feature nine black models who were asked to name their spirit animal, to explain what it means to have a soul and then to demonstrate their dancing skills in the videos.
A representative for Gucci told The Hollywood Reporter that the Italian fashion house was unable to provide any more information other than what is featured on the Instagram page, so there's no way to know if the casting was only open to models of color or not. However, considering the backlash Kanye West received when he called for "multiracial women only" when casting his Yeezy Season 4 show last summer, we were surprised to see that there was little to no outcry on social media over Gucci's move — only praise.
"I'm impressed!" wrote one fan on Twitter. "Gucci was never the first brand I thought of when I thought of diversity." Fashionista's Maura Brannigan noted, "Gucci could be using its platform to make an important statement about the absence of racial diversity within luxury brands. And if that's the case, we're on board."
But is the exclusive use of models of color groundbreaking or opportunistic?
Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan has written extensively on the issue of diversity and fashion. In 2016, she addressed West's casting restrictions, as well as Zac Posen's decision to cast only black models in his spring show: "Both of them did so to make a point, and good for them. But that’s not a win; that’s just part of the skirmish."
In a piece for New York magazine in 2011, Givhan called it the "paint chip" problem: when designers aim to "treat race like any other aesthetic touchstone, as unremarkable as red hair or a cleft chin."
"Fashion pushes at the boundaries of political correctness in the name of creative freedom and buzz," she wrote. "But it often does it in a manner that is impish, sly, timid and, at times, seemingly downright deceitful." Bottom line: Race and the fashion industry have a messy past.
For its part, the Midland Agency was founded just last year by fashion photographer Rachel Chandler, whose wedding was profiled in Vogue in 2013, and 20-year-old casting wunderkind Walter Pearce, whose sartorial signature is wearing pajama pants. The agency has built its foundation on plugging diversity and challenging traditional standards of beauty.
"On the one hand, it's just what I like — what I think is beautiful and cool," said Pearce in an interview with i-D magazine last fall about how he casts. "But on the other hand, there's an element of it that's political now. Once you do something enough times, it becomes a statement."
He continued, "There is something really positive happening right now. There are more opportunities now than ever, and I want to use that, I want to infiltrate as much as possible. This [traditional fashion] girl has lasted for 200 years, but she's not going to last forever."