Foucault theory

Gucci SS20
Fashion | 24 September 2019

Alessandro Michele has always been one of fashion’s best-read designers. Academic references tend to come thick and fast in his press releases, and SS20 was no different: this time, it was the turn of philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault, whose critique of biopolitics and power informed the narrative of the controversial show.

Michele has always rallied against normativity – the idea that society imposes rules and regulations on us, encouraging us to self-censor and assimilate – by aiming to create gender-fluid collections and toying with visual codes. SS20 opened with a flash of white light, the slow cranking open of a corrugated metal gate and a conveyor belt of models, most of whom were dressed in variations of white straitjackets. Look closely, and one model had written a message across their hands: “Mental Health is Not Fashion“.

This guerrilla protest of Michele’s symbolism went largely unnoticed by the fashion crowd, disappearing amongst the almost 100 looks of the collection. For the most part, it was business as usual – but sexier. Flashes of PVC and leather came through in the accessories, and Michele’s maximalism worked even more effectively when it yielded floor-length, transparent chiffon gowns, tight, thigh-split pencil skirts and nude slips with black lace-cut outs.

But how to read the collection within the wider context of the show’s message? Aside from the usual casting of androgynous models and the looks seeming to get more covered-up as the show progressed (a commentary on succumbing to the stifling of self-expression?), the straitjacket imagery read as little more than a shock tactic – and hopefully, one which looks set to reignite discussions around fashion’s responsibility when alluding to mental health, which can only be a good thing.

GALLERYCatwalk looks from this show