British Vogue updates us on Gucci’s diversity shakeup and strategic plans that should make the luxury brand’s design and marketing teams more creative than ever, says CEO Marco Bizzarri. The head of Gucci spoke at the Condé Nast Luxury conference in Cape Town last week, again emphasizing his message that "creativity is a consequence of diversity".
Gucci has enjoyed a very steep rise in the last four years with the appointment of Alessandro Michele as creative director. “With Alessandro, from the very beginning, we put creativity at the centre of everything we were doing,” Bizzarri told Suzy Menkes in a Cape Town chat. “We didn’t talk about figures or numbers because I don’t think that’s the way fashion should be managed. We're lucky in a way because at that time, many designers were stuck. Everything was very much market driven.”
Alessandro’s appointment is considered to be one of the best fashion business decisions in the last 10 years. Parent company Kering’s profits have doubled and Gucci is declared “the hottest brand on the planet” in the Lyst Index. Most recently, the pace has slowed some, and there’s no serious reason to believe that the Gucci boycott is the reason. Or is there?
Kering's chief financial officer Jean-Marc Duplaix rejected the notion that the blackface scandal played a determining role in Gucci's recent sales slowdown. Per Business of Fashion’, "he dismissed the idea that backlash against a balaclava sweater widely criticized for resembling blackface had hurt sales."
Still — when growth slows some and the word ‘boycott’ is being called for by Oscar-winning director Spike Lee — a smart person takes the situation very seriously. 50 Cent immediately posted a video of himself burning his Gucci clothing, and Soulja Boy covered up the forehead tattoo that was once an ode to the brand, writes Complex.
"Gucci's done," Soulja said before being asked if he planned to ditch his collection of Gucci pieces. "Nah, we ain't gon' return it...I'll just give it to charity."
As for the tattoo in the middle of his forehead, Soulja told Complex that removal procedures are underway. "I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, over the last ten years on the brand," he said. "So it's like, I feel disrespected for them to even portray my culture like that."
It gets worse for Gucci.
T.I. & Tiny: Friends & Family Hustle : Educate Them Young
Bizzari couldn’t be happy to hear that Gucci is discussed in a show about entreprising young kids of color. On Tuesday, Ebony narrated the story of a recent episode of T.I. & Tiny: Friends & Family Hustle, in which the kids — King, Rocko and Melo — are making a pitch on a sneakers and more pop-up shop. King is rapper T.I’s son, and Rocko and Melo are Monica’s.
For background, Atlanta rapper T.I. joined Soulja in calling for a Gucci boycott after Spike Lee first dropped the gauntlet. T.I. didn't accept the apology, and vowed to stop buying, wearing, and supporting the label until it learns to "RESPECT OUR DOLLARS & VALUE OUR BUSINESS."
"Our culture RUNS THIS SHIT!!!" T.I. wrote on Instagram. "We (People of color) spend $1.25 TRILLION/year (but are the least respected and the least included) and if we stop buying ANYTHING they MUST correct any and ALL of our concerns. That’s THE ONLY WAY we can get some RESPECT PUT ON OUR NAME!!!! I Don’t Give a Fuck if I gotta wear Target brand shit...."
“Gucci specifically is on thin ice with hot skates,” T.I. said.
AOC totally supports this action against Gucci, and let it be a lesson to the entire fashion industry.
Now back to T.I. and his further humiliation of Gucci — and at the hands of kids, no less. The boys — led by King — are making a business presentation, asking for a $250,000 investment for their sneaker shop.
When the kids use a slide with a Gucci bag in it, T.I. calls a halt, chiding the boys about supporting a brand that doesn’t support them. “Now, you off to a good start but you got to support brands that support you,” the rap mogul explains.
In horror, the younger Melo slides to the floor to remove his Gucci bomber jacket. “You have on an entire Gucci outfit Melo,” the singer revealed, but T.I. then told Melo it was “alright” since he didn’t know about the blackface sweater controversy and boycott. .
Melo asks King why he didn’t let him know that T.I. no longer liked the high fashion brand Gucci.
“Because you are in the new generation and everybody’s on Instagram and they know,” King answered.
It’s unclear what the fallout for Gucci will be in the black community. Dapper Dan and Marco Bizzarri are tight. Unlike Prada’s blasé response to their own controversy, the Gucci CEO was in New York in a day or two, having major apologies and promises to do way better in short order. It’s these apologies that the black community rejected ; they want REFORMS.
Blackface and ‘Camp’
In my own readings about Gucci and Alessandro’s love of ‘camp’ — the focus of the upcoming Gucci-sponsored May 6 Met Gala — it’s very possible that as racially-sheltered humans, the Gucci team truly didn’t understand the despicable nature of their offence to people of color.
Blackface was considered a core part of ‘camp’ and for obvious reasons, it fell out of favor bigly in America and but continued on in Europe. Ironically, many US African American talents, artists, singers felt they were more accepted in Europe, in spite of the blackface. I find the defense a weak one for an international luxury brand, but when researching ‘camp’ last week, blackface was a strong pillar in the camp movement. Exaggeration is core to ‘camp’.
If Anna Wintour and Andrew Bolton have any blackface artistry lined up in the Met Exhibition, they should proceed with caution. In the time of Trump, most of us are not amused and my friends in the black community have ‘had it’ over these incidents.
Leigh Bowery Was The Muse For Gucci’s Sweater
Michele Alessandro credited the deceased Australian performance artist, club promoter and fashion designer Leigh Bowery as being his source of inspiration. Indeed Bowery is a very influential character in the ‘camp movement’. Bowery was a major muse to artist Lucien Freud, and we will write a separate article on the talented creative who died of AIDS on New Year’s Eve 1994.
Gucci’s Changemakers Emergency Plan
Vogue’s Suzy Menkes describes Gucci’s diversity plans as a “four-pillar initiative for diversity and awareness, which will involve hiring global and regional directors for diversity and inclusion, setting up a multicultural design scholarship, as well as launching a diversity and inclusivity awareness programme and a global exchange programme. “You need to create the bricks and mortar infrastructure, not just the soft part, if you want to have longevity,” Bizzarri explained.
Meet The Changemaker Council
At his side, speaking that day, was supermodel Naomi Campbell – who, along with Dapper Dan and the rapper Will.i.am, is a member of the Changemakers Council that Gucci has assembled to, in Bizzarri’s words, help them better understand “what could be relevant for new generations in different parts of the world”. The council comprises business leaders and CEOs (Ivy McGregor, Susan Chokachi, Kimberly Blackwell), activists (Bethann Hardison, DeRay McKesson), writers (Michaela Angela Davis, Yaseen Eldik), poets (Cleo Wade) and educators (Eric Avila) among others. “We want to have people who are speaking up, telling us what they feel, in order to help us in understanding,” Bizzarri says. The position of Gucci’s global director for diversity and inclusion is still open for applications.
Bizzarri anticipates the fellowship programmes will increase mobility among Gucci’s 18,000 employees. “We are a big company, and this will give people the opportunity to move to Milan or vice versa, from Milan to other regions,” he explains. “I love the idea of imparting education, the chance to give to this younger generation, and give us different perspectives at the brand.”
I have to believe that Naomi Campbell is a key player in the ambitious plan of truly targeting Africa as a major source of creative input for Gucci.
The program will partner with up to 12 colleges around the world, four of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, including: Radford College (Accra, Ghana), Design Academy of Fashion (Cape Town, South Africa), University of Lagos (Lagos, Nigeria) and McEnsal School of Fashion Design (Nairobi, Kenya). Each college will run a contest to nominate a student who will then join Gucci for one year starting in January 2020. All students will receive board, lodging and a stipend, and ultimately the opportunity to work for Gucci.
In an earlier Harper’s Bazaarr article, Bizzarri said: "We will invest important resources to unify and strengthen our communities across North America, with a focus on programs that will impact youth and the African-American community. I believe in the promise of the next generation, and through our scholarship fund we will also create more opportunities for talented young people of diverse backgrounds to gain access to careers in the fashion industry."
Gucci has promised $5 million for community-based programs in US cities and a new volunteer initiative that allows Gucci’s 18,000 employees to take up to four paid days off to participate in volunteer efforts on issues incouding equality, support for refugees and the homeless, protection of the environment and education.
Menkes notes that when Bizzarri extols the power of diversity on creativity, he is also aware that there is a positive correlation between gender and racial diversity and financial returns. And just to call out the hard, cold facts — Gucci has NO CHOICE but to fix this situation and to fix it fast.
Even T.I. allowed that Gucci could redeem itself during the three months of the boycott. It’s clear to me that the kinds of diversity initiatives proposed by CEO Marco Bizzarri can and will bring change to the fashion industry. The Gucci Changemakers Council is in the driver’s seat on calling off this boycott and they will be very tough negotiators..
On a sidenote, I just Googled Queen Bey to see if she had a response to the Gucci controversy. It seems that the infallible goddess had her own moment of fame around blackface. During All-Star Weekend in 2015, Beyoncé was spotted donning a Scooter LaForge trench coat, evoking some raised eyebrows. The coat featured a custom-painted depiction of a smiling clown that some described as the often controversial, black-face character Sambo.
As you can see, race relations are very complicated! ~ Anne