Fashion exists in a set of paradoxical conditions. It works as a set of visual signifiers to create communities, to establish who is “in style” or “on trend” and who isn’t- trends churn in and out of fashion, creating a complex, constantly changing code of dress, easily readable to establish who is “in.” Yet at the same time, it is constantly searching for individuality, with countless articles and books dedicated to the quest for “personal style,” that is, a distinct look, asserting that the wearer is unique, not one of the crowd, different. Thus, the Gucci’s appropriation of the Paris student uprising of May 1968 for the pre-fall 2018 ad campaign is an unsurprising choice. It manages to meet both of the standards for success in fashion- the 1960s have been trending and appearing throughout the industry for a year or so, and is still going strong, and yet it draws upon the desire to be different, against the norm. Gucci’s ham-handed recreation video is a marketing attempt to garner favor with younger generations of consumers, tapping into the “revolutionary spirit” to create a brand of “avant-garde” fashion. In reality, the elitist, inaccessible haute couture label is simply pandering to the desires of the rich and privileged to taste rebellion and to feel as though they are “against the system,” without ever actually taking any risks.

The uprising of May 1968 in Paris was led by the students at the Sorbonne university. The predominantly white, middle class students bonded with the working class of the city, barricading streets, spreading posters and pamphlets, decorating the city in graffiti. Much of the student’s philosophy of rebellion was similar to the prevailing 60s idea of a cultural, intellectual rebellion, in conjunction with the Situationists rising in France. The students began by protesting American imperialism, the Vietnam war, and traditional institutions and value, and were joined by mass strikes from the working class. The Situationists, with Guy Debord and Pierre Canjuers, decried the consumption and waste this new business model created. They wrote on the “artificial needs” created by capitalism, while “authentic desires… remain unfulfilled.”The protests rose to the point that government officials feared revolt. In response, President de Gaulle called upon the Paris police to step in, and the protests erupted into violence. The entire city was completely shut down, and the economy of France temporarily halted in the turmoil.

May 29th, students strike with CGT unions

Gucci’s pre-fall 2018 campaign video is comical in comparison. Models spray paint cars as they drive off and pose dramatically in art deco-esque crystal headbands (Swarovski sponsors rebellion, apparently). The newspaper the model is reading is on fire. School desks are piled up to form a barricade against a chalkboard (there isn’t a door, it’s just a wall with no point of entry, but it’s being barricaded just the same). Camera shots dramatically zoom in onto model’s faces, who stare stoically into the lens. Quick cuts jump between “students” swinging their legs as they sit on the roof, they gathered on the floor of a classroom, sitting and shaking their fists while a blonde model aggressively speaks into a microphone. They run down stairs, close doors, then freeze to pose gracefully, heads tilted as they look into the camera. Print ads show scrawled doodles and childish block letters in red pen reading “Liberté, fraternité, sexualité,” spoofing the national French tripartite motto. Another 2-dimensional ad shows Arthur Rimbaud’s famous poem, L’Éternité, surrounded by rough pen doodles of the Eiffel Tower, human-headed birds, and a large Gucci “G.” A third ad is a yellow school schedule, with thick black marker obscuring parts with vague geometric patterns, and “MARZ” written across the center. Oddly, despite the allegedly Parisian setting, the schedule itself is in English.

Screenshot from Gucci campaign video

Gucci pre-fall 2018 print ads

Paris student poster and graffiti, 1968

The specific clothing articles and general style of the original Parisian students are diluted, if not totally ignored, throughout Gucci’s video. Collegiate, somewhat masculine styles were favored by the students, who wore sturdy corduroy pants and suit jackets, as well as button-down shirts, small sweaters on women, and leather boots or loafers. Denim featured prominently in many images of the active rioters. The 60s had already established the new sovereignty of prêt-à-porter over haute couture, with an unprecedented number of the upper middle class abandoning traditional dressmakers to buy premade clothing. Previous stigma that “off the rack” clothing was shoddy and worn only by those who absolutely could not afford anything more (the working class) was being broken as higher quality garments were being produced. This rising tide was founded and led by Yves Saint Laurent, who created his Rive Gauche line in 1966, inspired by and marketed towards university students in the Latin Quarter. While this was countered by the anti-consumerism movement, a definite shift in fashion was taking place and shaped by these events.

The Gucci ad deviates from the somewhat understated collegiate style of the historical revolutionaries, often falling into American flower-child stereotypes. For example, a shot shows a model with long blonde hair speaking dramatically into a microphone, wearing a headband across her forehead and a fringed vest. No such outfit, or even anything remotely similar, appears in any photographs of the demonstration. Not only is Gucci appropriating the images of the Paris student demonstrations to achieve a level of relevance to a younger generation, they’re not even appropriating the right imagery. Granted, this lack of realism in the clothes is probably purposeful, to ensure the viewer correctly identifies the decade being referenced. Since the 60s is what is trending in the fashion world, the somewhat more ambiguous, personal clothing of the actual Paris students could feasibly be mistaken as being from 50s or 70s (depending on how knowledgeable of fashion history the viewer is). Some brief shots of models running show them in athleisure, sweatpants and pullover sweatshirts, in true 2018 hypebeast style — which would absolutely not have been present in 1968 Paris. Gucci is less concerned with accurately portraying or honoring the events that took place than with making sure the connection is made, so everyone can tell that it is, indeed, on trend. The purported “rebellion” of the ad is thus even further undercut by the obvious lack of historical accuracy.

May 1st, 1968- students protest the war in Vietnam

Gucci campaign video screenshot

In today’s society of social media, branding is critical for success- and not simply corporate branding, the personal branding of oneself as unique, noteworthy. Influencers have cult followings and every instagram account fights for followers. In the fashion industry especially, follower count, views, and likes are directly correlated with success. These are, in turn, driven by the internet’s insatiable desire to find the next “new” thing. Gucci is not immune to this, and plays the social media game with this ad campaign, following the current fashion world obsession with the 1960s. Their choice of the May ’68 student uprisings, as opposed to simply being ’60s themed, is purposeful — it is the 50th anniversary of the riots this May. But more importantly, it involves rebellion, and the use of this event as inspiration aligns Gucci with that sense of defiance. Gucci’s ad doesn’t actually challenge any norms, and simply parodies the actual rebellion, but that loose simulation is enough to entice customers with the front of nonconformity.

Student being carried on a stretcher, June 17th, 1968

Despite the assertion of the May 1968 rebels that they were taking a stance against the dominant culture, their actions have cycled into becoming the culture they resisted. The rebels have been romanticized, their clothing turned into couture, recreated and bedazzled, then priced for thousands of dollars and marketed at the ruling class that they had originally resisted. The Paris student uprising provided the perfect opportunity for Gucci to maintain a veneer of avant-garde rebellion, to satisfy the desires of their target demographic for classist faux resistance, while maintaining on-trend and without committing enough to actually challenge the status quo that Gucci itself is a part of. Risk-free rebellion is always on-trend.

Bibliography

Debord, Guy, and Pierre Canjuers. Preliminaries Towards Defining a Unitary Revolutionary Program.

1. Capitalism: a society without culture, 6

Hill, Colleen. Paris Refashioned: 1957–1968. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.

Margiaria, Amanda, and Meredith Balkus. “Gucci’s New Campaign Takes Us Back to the Paris of 1968.” I-D. February 12, 2018. Accessed May 02, 2018. https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/xw5y5k/guccis-new-campaign-takes-us-back-to-the-paris-of-1968.

Pat. “Mai 68.” Humour Actualités Citations Et Images. May 16, 2013. Accessed May 04, 2018. http://k00ls.overblog.com/mai-68.

  1. Largest quality images found

RFI. “Souvenirs Du Mois De Mai.” RFI SAVOIRS. February 20, 2018. Accessed May 04, 2018. https://savoirs.rfi.fr/br/comprendre-enrichir/histoire/souvenirs-du-mois-de-mai.

California fibers artist, designer, and garment maker. https://www.katherineshark.com/