Gucci’s cyborg theme is the perfect metaphor for fashion’s shallow grasps at meaning

Image via Getty Images/Harpers Bazaar

Words by Bianca O’Neill

Alessandro Michele hasn’t entirely thought this idea through. Let’s break it down. 

One of the biggest brands of last year, Gucci, has unveiled its Fall 2018 collection in Milan this week. Despite all the enthralled onlookers and fervoured Instagram snapping, it has left me desperately uninspired.

As industry attendees arrived at the runway, they were met by a manifesto lifted from Foucault’s back catalogue. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, it seems, found a book in a vintage shop and thought it would be a great way to prescribe meaning to an often-tread (and quite frankly, boring) theme of robots. Yawn.

As The Cut quite unironically noted in their show review, “cyborgs are the ideal fashion muse. They never age, never get tired, hungry, or bloated. They can be in Los Angeles one day and Milan the next. And they never accidentally tweet something inappropriate.” In other words, they are not human.

What, if not this, is the perfect metaphor for fashion’s obsession with the model as muse – a model who is unachievably thin, never speaking, often alien-like in their unique physical attributes?

They also note that the cyborg effect has been increasing of late, demonstrated in the rise of popularity of Miquela, a computer-generated ‘influencer’ who has over 605,000 followers and is ‘collaborating’ with Prada later this week.

Music has also visited this idea of post-identity, albeit with a slightly more human version, in Poppy – but at least this art project has a little depth to it. Rather than Miquela’s two-dimensional attempt to exert control over the unpredictable industry of human influencers in order to shamelessly promote products, Poppy is instead a commentary on that very idea.

But, back to fashion.

I’m sure the industry loves the idea of the post-identity world as easy artistic inspiration, but what exactly that has to do with carrying your head in your hands or baby dragons? Well – I’m not entirely sure. I do know one thing, however, and that’s the fact that Michele hasn’t entirely thought this idea through.

Foucault spoke a lot about identity and power – particularly the invisible power of discipline manifested in our desire to fit in. It is, in fact, ironic that Gucci’s Michele chose to use Foucault as his inspiration; for Foucault knew that the influence of this invisible power was the result of being seen. Being visible.

And visibility is exactly what the fashion industry is built on: the desire to fit in, and to drive garment purchase by encouraging others to fit in. The cult exists purely because it is visible. And the following of a trend is, in fact, a lack of identity.

In a post-identity world, Michele’s “biologically indefinite and culturally aware creature” wouldn’t seek to define themselves through clothing – much less, by carrying around a fake baby dragon. The entire point of a post-identity world is that our cultural, gender and socio-economic identities don’t matter, and therefore our expressions of such (via reworked New York Yankees caps or ‘woke’ turbans) are no longer important.

In a post-identity world, visibility is no longer important; and in that anonymity is where we find our freedom – not, as Michele seems to be saying, in making a big show of standing out. “Their visibility assures the hold of the power that is exercised over them,” says Foucault. “It is this fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen, that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection.”

In other words, it is the action of being visible that subjects us to domination – not the other way around.

To Michele, the Gucci cyborg may be a “symbol of an emancipatory possibility through which we can decide to become what we are,” but this illusion of emancipation is a barely-veiled request to become what Michele wants you to be.

And that is, clad in Gucci.

Follow Bianca at @_thesecondrow, or listen to her podcast at @thefashionpodcast

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