- “Gucci Dans Les Rues” or May ’68 as Political Kitsch
Without a doubt, the fiftieth anniversary of May ’68 is a dangerous moment. While the crisp symbolism of a half century necessarily invites a renewed spirit of critical reflection, it also opens the door to historical fetish and ideological capture. The risk, of course, is that the injunction to remember is itself a form of capture: under the guise of memory, the past comes to dominate the vicissitudes of the present by transforming its material potency into a nostalgic stream of revolutionary clichés. Indeed, how better to declare a politics dead than to suggest we must now give accounts of its storied legacy as one might give a eulogy for a life well lived? In a year filled with dedications and remembrances, such funereal gestures do not always come bearing their murderous impulses on their sleeve. More often than not, the requiem comes disguised as a gesture of political faith. The famed Italian design house Gucci, for example, recently publicized its Pre-Fall 2018 collection with a short film release, “Gucci Dans Les Rues,” under the auspices of a generous homage to ’68: “#Gucci-PreFall18 campaign is inspired by the spring of student awakening in Paris 1968 and features young rebels occupying a university campus in a gesture of optimism, idealism and passion” (Gucci Official). Such a tribute is not as odd as it might seem. Enjoying a much-lauded revival under the creative direction of Alessandro Michelle, Gucci has been appropriating the historical and theoretical “canon” for several years. A recent collection, for example, showed models holding disturbingly accurate prosthetic copies of their heads in an apparent reference to Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto (with accompanying citations from Foucault on biopolitics) (Marriott). Beyond its sartorial interpretations of canonical works of high theory, Gucci has spent much of its financial and cultural power aiding significant film [End Page 49] restorations—from Barbara Loden’s feminist masterpiece, Wanda, to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. In short, Gucci has flirted with the intersections of art, politics, and advertising on more than one occasion, but few of its recent contributions have complicated the boundaries more thoroughly than “Gucci Dan Les Rues.”
Pushed along by a pulsing club beat, the film deploys an affecting archival aesthetic: grainy celluloid ‘footage’ captures Gucci-clad youth running through clouds of tear gas, ripping up papers at the edge of a school window, and scrawling ’68 slogans across bathroom tile—“Liberté, Egalité, Sexualité (Figure 1 and Figure 2).” Energized by the visual transgressions of a nude drawing class, the students march under a forest of banners, their sleeves marked with the familiar Gucci stripe, their fists pumping in time with Laurent Garnier’s pulsing club hit, “Crispy Bacon.” The film’s verisimilitude is so convincing, it feels as if Gucci were there all along—an accidental witness carried in the fevered arms of youthful revolt, the aesthetic icon of a cultural moment.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
But lest we get too caught up in the echoes between Gucci’s invocation of student resistance and the events of May ’68 itself, the whimsical vintage vision guarantees a gentle (if effective) political lobotomy. Muted pastel colors, hazy filters, and snappy edits deliver the commercial stylings of a palatable Wes Anderson aesthetic: it tickles our nostalgic funny bone but little more. Police are nowhere to be seen. [End Page 50] Students throw toilet paper, not Molotov cocktails. It looks like one giant (and very stylish) street party—as if May ’68 were the latest theme inspiring the bohemian aesthetic of Coachella’s social media darlings. The film thus offers May ’68 as something to desire only in direct proportion to our ability to buy its memory as a commodity in a dizzyingly incoherent (if still all too familiar) command: Fuck capitalism. Wear Gucci. Or, perhaps more accurately, “Gucci Dan Les Rues,” sells ’68 as a tangle of retro affects manifested as sartorial code: those queer feelings of wistful fancy meant to make us collectively sigh and shed a tear, what Milan...