Following Alessandro Michele's first show for Gucci almost exactly two years ago, the Creative Director was universally praised for his bold new direction for the luxury house but simultaneously criticised for casting almost exclusively Caucasian models on the catwalk. Thankfully, since then, Gucci's shows have become increasingly more diverse and now it seems that for the Pre-Fall campaign, which will be unveiled fully in April, the Italian fashion house has selected solely black models. Last Thursday, “audition videos” of nine black models appeared on Instagram and Twitter, signifying a seismic shift for the luxury brand. In the videos, filmed in London, the models, street cast by Midland Agency (the same agency used by Hood By Air) discuss their spirit animals, what it means to have a soul and demonstrate their dance moves to Duke Browner's "Crying Over You."
A spokesperson for Gucci told the Business of Fashion: “Dance is an important part of this story and consequently the casting reflects this. However, it is also the case that Alessandro Michele has always celebrated diversity in all of its forms in his approach to his work.” Though that statement may not be strictly true, this new campaign is a notable turning point for an industry that is notoriously unrepresentative. Yes, brands such as Givenchy, Ashish or Balmain consistently celebrate and champion diversity on the catwalk but there is still an alarming dearth of non-white models every season during the shows. Demna Gvasalia, the designer du jour who has been internationally lauded for subverting tradition with his thought-provoking designs at Vetements and Balenciaga has certainly not made it a priority to showcase his collections on non-white models. For a couple of seasons his shows for Vetements and Balenciaga only featured white models but luckily, the most recent collection, presented during couture week earlier this month, centred on social stereotypes and was worn by a diverse array of ordinary people.
Though Gucci's move to recognise black models ought to be applauded, why then were many so quick to criticise Kanye West when he posted a casting call for his Yeezy season 4 show last September, requesting only "multiracial" models? Is this a prime example of double standards? When a black designer seeks black models it is seen as prejudiced but when a white designer does the same thing it must be praised? Whether or not Gucci's sudden interest in greater representation is a clever marketing tool to appeal to a wider audience and make up for its previous lack of diversity, or a genuine celebration of a valuable section of their customer base, we can only hope that more fashion houses will follow their lead. Let's hope 2017 will be the year that the fashion industry finally makes a united effort to diversify advertising and challenge the archaic notion of beauty.