After online trolls attacked an unassuming Valentino ad for the model’s androgyny, the brand’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli is having none of it.
During the weekend, Valentino uploaded several campaign images to its Instagram, and while all the images were in the same wheelhouse, one in particular, featuring Michael Bailey Gates, the photographer who shot the images, was the focus of hate by online commenters.
The photograph in question features a nude gay man holding a bag.
“That is TOO much," one person wrote. “Are the bags for women or for whom? Who this ad is made for? This looks disgusting, sorry. Images like this should not be even shown to children.” Another added that they are “sick of this gender confusion crap.”
A third person said that “freedom of expression doesn’t mean you need to state the obvious and promote turning men into women. While I like your products, I feel sick looking at a man who wants to be a woman and you [shoving it down] our throats. I like actual women wearing your products, not men who you want to turn into women.” Hundreds of users reacted simply with vomiting face emojis.
To be clear: The photograph doesn't really challenge gender binary. There are no trans people in the image, no one is in drag or cross dressing. Gates is not even wearing heavy makeup. Still, right wing trolls are flipping their kids lids at the image of a thin man with long hair holding a bag.
The hate forced Gates to make his personal Instagram account private. But he was defended by Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, who posted the image on his account along with a message for all the haters. “After we posted this picture on Maison Valentino a lot of people reacted with hateful and aggressive comments,” Piccioli said. “My job is to deliver my vision of beauty according to the time we are living and beauty and whom we consider beautiful, is a reflection of our own values.”
“Evolution is possible if equality is possible, if inclusivity is possible, if human rights are defended and freedom of expression is protected and nurtured,” he continued. “Hate is not an expression, hate is a reaction to fear and fear can easily turn into violence, which can be either a comment or an aggression to two guys kissing in a subway.”
Piccioli wasn’t done there. “We have to stand against and condemn all form of violence, hate, discrimination and racism and I‘m proud to use my voice and my work to do so, now and forever,” he continued. “This picture is a self portrait of a young beautiful man and evil is in the eye of the beholder, not in his naked body.”
He said that he knows change won’t be easy, but he knows it is possible, and he wants to see it happen, “in the name of freedom, love, tolerance and growth.”