GUCCI’s Identity Politics

For those who still doubt the power of social media in the fashion world, the latest chapter of the Gucci/racism row should put in a nail in the coffin. More so than ever, luxury fashion brands exist at the mercy of public internet approval, a forum where even a single voice in Harlem could start a revolution. This is indeed the case with the case of the king of Black Fashion, Dapper Dan.

For those who need a recap: Dapper Dan is the famous African American fashion designer hailing from Harlem’s 125th Street, where he in the 80s began making upscale and avant-garde bootlegged creations riffing luxury brands such as Gucci. Dressing the likes of P Diddy, Dan gained a huge following, a few lawsuits, while becoming a walking legend in black American celebrity circles. Then, in 2017, Gucci’s own maximalist magician, Alessandro Michele, presented an homage to Dapper Dan with a bootleg version of his Gucci bootleg, which caused a scandal, with the corporate Italian fashion brand being accused of stealing the intellectual copyrights of racial minorities. This, in turn, led to a well-funded rekindling, with Michele taking the opportunity to begin a formal collaboration with Dan, fully underwriting the re-opening of his Harlem boutique. All was merry, it seemed, until a string of racism rows hit fashion this winter – Prada, Adidas, and finally Gucci – as social media communities started calling out fashion brands for potentially racist designs. While brands were once immortal to such low-brow dramas, the tables have turned in the age of Instagram and Twitter: enormous backlashes forced all three brands to pull designs, issue public apologies, and even set up diversity councils (one wonders, though, why such councils were not formed earlier). But at Gucci, this couldn’t do, at least according to Dapper Dan, who used his much-followed Instagram account to publicly hold his new corporate friends accountable. A post announced Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzarri was en route to see him to discuss a way for the brand to make amends, and a few weeks later, this has now resulted in what may be the most ambitious charity program by a fashion brand in the world.

The program, called GUCCI CHANGEMAKERS, is described as “a global program to support industry change and to foster unity through community action.” Specifically, it involves “a multi-year US$ 5 million Changemakers Fund and a US$ 1.5 million scholarship program in North America, alongside a global employee-volunteering framework that will fuel the company’s commitment to creating lasting social impact in our communities and within the fashion industry.” The fund will invest in community-based programs in cities across North America, with a particular focus on African-American community and communities of color at-large; the scholarship program will award scholarships to young designers of color; while the volunteering program will empower all 18,000 Gucci employees worldwide to dedicate up to 4 paid days off for volunteering activities in their local communities. The ambitious program was announced this week by Bizzarri from Rome, along with the following statement: “I believe in dialogue, building bridges and taking quick action. This is why we started working immediately on the long-term infrastructure at Gucci to address our shortcomings.” Dapper Dan, chiming in, added: “As a partner, I am proud to work with Gucci and other community leaders to help guide programs that will create meaningful impact for the Black community and fashion as a whole. It is imperative that we have a seat at the table to say how we should be represented and reimagined. Through our work together, Gucci is in a position to lead the overall industry toward becoming a better more inclusive one.” Perhaps, all that ranting on social media does pay off after all.