Model Ayesha Tan-Jones staged a protest against Gucci while walking in the brand's runway show during Milan Fashion Week. Tan-Jones, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, said they were speaking out against the company's use of straitjackets in its spring/summer 2020 collection.
During the show, they held up their palms to reveal the words, "Mental health is not fashion." Tan-Jones explained their decision in a lengthy statement posted to Instagram Sunday.
"I chose to protest the Gucci S/S/ 2020 runway show as I believe, as many of my fellow models do, that the stigma around mental health must end," they wrote. "As an artist and model who has experienced my own struggles with mental health, as well as family members and loved ones who have been affected by depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia, it is hurtful and insensitive for a major fashion house such as Gucci to use this imagery as a concept for a fleeting fashion moment."
Tan-Jones, who described themselves as an artist and musician, said straitjackets were "a symbol of a cruel time" in medicine's history when mental illness wasn't "understood."
"It is in bad taste for Gucci to use the imagery of straitjackets and outfits alluding to mental patients, while being rolled out on a conveyor belt as if a piece of factory meat," Tan-Jones said. "Presenting these struggles as props for selling clothes in today's capitalist climate is vulgar, unimaginative and offensive to the millions of people around the world affected by these issues."
Tan-Jones later wrote in a separate Instagram post that they, as well as other models, chose to donate part of their fees to mental health charities.
Gucci said in an Instagram post Sunday, "uniforms, utilitarian clothes, normative dress, including straitjackets," were included in the show "as the most extreme version of a uniform dictated by society and those who control it."
The brand added that the specific clothes were just a statement for the show, designed by the company's creative director Alessandro Michele and will not be sold.
The brand also clarified the sterile-looking ensembles that opened the show were only a portion of the designs — with the "antidote" being the other more vibrant looks later on. The company explained the collection aims to convey "fashion as a way to allow people to walk through fields of possibilities, cultivate beauty, make diversity sacrosanct and celebrate the self in expression and identity."
Michele told The New York Times that for him, the show "was the journey from conformity to freedom and creativity" and that the restrictive clothes were "part of a performance." Gucci felt the model should be free to protest, as the show was partly about freedom, reported the outlet.
This isn't the first time Gucci has been under fire for insensitive designs. In February, the brand removed a controversial sweater from its site and issued an apology after some people said the garment resembled blackface.
Last winter, a namesake turban resembling the traditional Sikh dastar was modeled by a white male at the luxury brand's Milan Fashion Week show and led to backlash. The controversy bubbled up again in May when social media users discovered Gucci's "Indy Full Head Wrap" for sale on Nordstrom's website.
Gucci did not immediately respond to request for comment.