Is Gigi Hadid’s New Versace Campaign Actually Racist?

Image: @versace_official

As we move into the summer months, fashion is already focused on the colder season with the new AW16 campaigns set to start appearing in magazines and on billboards any time now. Not only does this mean that we’ll all be wistfully longing for the autumn collections in the height of the sunny season, it also means we get a glimpse of the new muses. This year, for one major fashion house in particular, it also means we get a glimpse of a brand new look.

We’ve come to expect from Versace’s campaigns what we get from its shows: high-octane, ostentatious glamour. Nobody does sex appeal quite like the Italians but the Versace brand of it is on another level. Who else could have created that safety-pin dress?

SEE: A Celebration Of Donatella Versace’s Most Amazing Fashion Moments

> Gigi Hadid also starred in Versace’s SS16 campaign with Natasha Poly

Image: @gigihadid

The recently revealed AW16 campaign, then, comes as something of a shock. Starring supermodels and regular Versace muses Karlie Kloss and Gigi Hadid, the new shots were taken by Bruce Weber who last worked with Donatella Versace 20 years ago, And given that the campaign signals a new direction for the brand, the two industry power players spoke to Vanessa Friedman at The New York Times, to discuss the shift and what it means.

“For me, this was kind of a turning point,” Donatella told the publication. “Versace’s image is so much about the red carpet. But I wanted to make day clothes fierce. You know: She’s a superstar, and she runs her business, and she runs her family too. Fashion is a part of life, and I thought it was important to show it could be a part of many different lives. That it could help you in your life. It’s not about creating beautiful illusions anymore.”

The images show Karlie and Gigi in motherly roles, playing very fashionable (and young) incarnations of the family matriarch. Clearly, this is still Versace’s view of reality, but it’s at least one which celebrates diversity. Not everyone agrees, however.

Gigi is pictured with a black male model and two young children, and while some have congratulated Versace on this depiction of a modern, interracial family, many have taken against it, claiming that it actually depicts an inherently prejudiced attitude. Obviously, there’s no better place to vent your frustrations with the world than on social media, which is exactly what many have been doing.

One Instagram user uploaded the shot of Gigi and her ‘family’ along with the following caption: “Take this ad down Versace, it’s embarrassing…This entire ad focuses on the token fair skinned mother. Both child and father looking at her in awe. Minorities are severely underrepresented in the industry and when in ads, they’re almost ALWAYS depicted in the shadow of an elite fair skinned model.”

Another user commented on the picture on Versace’s Instagram account, writing: “Why is there a chain around the little black girl who clearly is not mixed weird photo.”

> Donatella uploaded this shot to Instagram in the wake of the criticism, writing: ‘Her name is Brianna and she is so cute!’

Image: @Donatella_versace

Others were angry that Gigi had been chosen to portray the role of a mother, with one Twitter user saying: “The concept of the last Versace ad camp is so ???? To me. Gigi as a teen mom what??” Another seemed angry that Gigi had been chosen at all: “why didn’t they get jourdan dunn to do the mom campaign because she’s actually a mom?”

The campaign was shot in Chicago, which has proved to be another point of controversy. The city has continued to make headlines for increased violence, murder rates and also police brutality against minorities- an issue that has itself raised serious questions about racism and modern prejudice. But none of that is obvious from the photographs, which has angered many. Instead, Chicago looks like a pretty non-descript urban background.

It was Bruce Weber’s choice to use the city as the backdrop for the campaign, and it seems his intentions were good.

He says: “I had read a story in The New Yorker about a pastor called Father Mike, who is pretty controversial, and it caught my imagination. I went to hear him speak before we started shooting, and he was talking about politics and the need to restore old neighborhoods, and it made me think I wanted these pictures to mean something to the city.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though anyone has cottoned on to that meaning, instead focusing on just how the campaign doesn’t seem to depict Chicago’s reality in any way whatsoever. It also looks as though, while Donatella herself stated that ‘non-models’ who were ‘found in the city’ were recruited for the ads, not very many made the final cut.

> Many people are unhappy with the way in which the campaign depicts Chicago

Image: Bruce Weber for Versace

“In the end, there were 26 men and 17 were not models,” said Donatella. “There was one opera singer, some dancers … And then Bruce put together all kinds of very diverse families in the pictures.” Many people have jumped on this comment in particular, suggesting that there’s nothing diverse about Versace’s new campaign at all. One report on said:

“Six images from the campaign have been released and in those images, there are more than 25 models cast. Among them, only two are people of color… All the men in the images released so far are objectively attractive, with chiseled jaws and slim waistlines. So it’s not like they went out into the city’s closest fire station and yelled, “Who wants to be a model in a Versace ad campaign with Gigi Hadid?!” They scoured the city for the most attractive, and went from there.”

Of course, it is a fashion campaign, so we’re probably not that surprised that everyone is attractive, but the issue of diversity is an entirely different argument altogether. Funnily enough, Weber addressed the idea of Donatella’s vision for the campaign in his interview with The New York Times, stating:

“Donatella was really into the idea of taking the men and women she designs for and putting them in the world where you work, you go out with your family, you live. It’s always funny to me that people think fashion photography is all about showing the clothes. It’s not. It’s about reporting.”

So, did Versace simply ‘report’ in the wrong way? Or do you think there is something inherently prejudiced about this campaign and the way it represents ‘diversity’? Tell us your thoughts on (no surprises here) Twitter @Lookmagazine and join the debate.