How Gucci’s Shanghai Exhibition Exposes The Irony In Authenticity

People want authenticity from brands, but what if inauthenticity is part of what makes an industry interesting? We discover the insights behind how Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele’s latest exhibition in Shanghai exposes the irony in authenticity, surveying "copy-catting" as a dominant cultural paradigm in fashion.
Authenticity has become a buzzword for brands attempting to meet consumer expectations for transparency about their supply chains, and their approach to customers. Yet, in fashion, authenticity is strongly linked with the concept of originality, which isn’t as relevant to an industry whose influences encompass the whole of social and cultural life. Taking this to heart, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele is teaming up with Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan for an exhibition in Shanghai – the counterfeit centre of the world – on copying as an artistic practice, aiming to expose the irony in our conceptions of authenticity and originality. The title of the exhibition, "The Artist is Present", is itself copied from a Marina Abramovic performance art piece, through which Abramovic frames her relationship with her audience.
This tongue-in-cheek exhibition in China comes hot on the heels of Gucci’s shifting focus to maintain relevance with Gen Y and Gen Z fashionistas. They’ve created The Lab to make sure that Gen Y is influencing the future of the company, and responded to the 80% of Gen Zers whose fashion taste is influenced by social media by creating memes with the #TFWGucci hashtag campaign. Michele's exhibition brings this conceptual and digital strategy into focus, as real brand authenticity involves being self-aware and critical of the positions that a brand occupies in cultural life. For fashion, part of this is recognising the role that copying, pastiche, and collage have in the artistic process. "We are all hybrids," says Michele. "It is something we have to cultivate and take care of on a daily basis."
Dr. Karen Correia da Silva is a Senior Social Scientist at Canvas8, which specialises in behavioural insights and consumer research. She uses ethnography and semiotics to help brands to better understand people. As a diversity and inclusion scholar in media and organisational behaviour, Karen’s ten years of award-winning qualitative research and consultancy work has helped creatives, organisations, FTSE 100 companies, and public policymakers to work better, do better, and be better.

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