This is just one of many, many significant images from the past week, but it’s one that really bothers me, for small reasons that are indicative of a larger situation.
Kellyanne Conway described her Inauguration Day outfit as “Trump revolutionary wear.”
And media outlets quickly picked up on the fact that Conway’s tricolor coat was a Gucci ready-to-wear design that cost $3600, but no one seems to have looked more deeply into its back-story.
Here’s a shot of the coat making its debut at Gucci’s Resort 2017 runway show, held in London’s historic Westminster Abbey in June 2016.
I remember reading about this collection in The New Yorker months ago, which is why the strangeness of this wardrobe choice caught my attention.
Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, who happens to be Italian-born (and gay, in case you’re keeping track of the ironies here), was inspired by England’s history and culture, particularly its sartorial traditions, when he designed this collection. According to Women’s Wear Daily, Michele said, “I really love the English aesthetic and it’s something that belongs to my language. . .English culture is in a way very close to my beautiful chaos.”
That meant lots of Union Jacks, dogs, and prints inspired by blue-patterned porcelain. It meant witty updates on granny sweaters, punk rock creepers, Victorian gowns, and yes, military uniforms.
This illustration by artist Richard Simkin shows the dress uniform of the Royal Regimennt of Artillery as it looked in 1794, 1799, and 1820. Red, white, and blue were (and are) the colors of the United Kingdom’s flag. News flash, in case you didn’t know: that’s where the rebellious American colonies got this color scheme.
Check out the uniform on the right, with its breastplate-like jacket detail and those double rows of buttons.
(I’m neither a military historian nor a fashion historian, so please excuse my lack of technical vocabulary.)
Here’s the uniform worn by the 12th Royal Lancers (an elite cavalry unit) circa 1820, illustrated by artist P. H. Smitherman. Different group, similar details.
From an auction website, here’s an actual “17th Lancers Officer’s Lance Cap and Tunic,” dated circa 1890. It has a white breast against a blue body, just like the Gucci coat.
We could find more examples without any trouble. Basically, Michele’s design team was looking at BRITISH uniforms, which makes total sense, since they were working on an England-inspired collection.
And what about the buttons on that Gucci coat? Those are not “pussies,” people. It’s not some shade-y in-joke. (Oh, don’t we just wish that KC had that level of self-awareness and humor!)
They look more to me like tigers. On the other hand, could they be lions? The lion has been a symbol of England and English rulers since the Middle Ages. And a lion has appeared in the Royal Coat of Arms since 1837.
From another auction website, here’s the clasp from a Revolutionary War sword belt — part of a uniform worn by the ENGLISH army. Michele and his designers were evidently playing on this symbolism with their feline-head buttons for their 2017 design.
In this moment of “alternative facts,” Gucci’s design has been appropriated without any understanding for, or regard of, its original context and concept. And this kind of gesture worries me.
TL;DR: If you’re trying to make some kind of sartorial statement about a new “revolution” taking place in the United States, maybe you shouldn’t choose to wear an Italian designer’s homage to English history and culture. Just a thought.