Updated: Jan 11, 2020
Milan’s fashion week is a semi-annual clothing trade show during which Italian fashion houses introduce their latest collections. Each show is an extravagant spectacle of artistry and pageantry focused on each house's newest designs. Sky high models with breath-taking makeup and hair, floating over unexpected props contribute to and amplify the experience.
Gucci’s show is one of the most desirable to attend, and modeling for Gucci is a boon for every model involved. It can make a career. So their show during the Milan fashion week is the last place one would expect to find a nonviolent action.
And yet, on September 22, 2019 at Gucci’s ready-to-wear show model Ayesha Tan Jones staged a silent protest against Gucci’s commodification of mental health . That Gucci chose the straitjacket, a symbol inextricably bound to mental health, as their opening image raises a host of questions. And yet, within the realm of fashion and art such choices often stand without comment, even when intended to incite conversation.
But not on this day.
As part of a line of models on a conveyor belt staring straight ahead into space and wearing a high fashion take on the straitjacket Ayesha Tan Jones lifted their hands so their palms faced forward at their shoulders and held them there. Scrawled across one palm was: MENTAL HEALTH, across the other: IS NOT FASHION.
It was a simple gesture that broke the pattern of the repetition of models with their hands down at their sides. It was, and is, profoundly inspiring.
Ayesha Tan Jones action likely endangered future work with Gucci as well as their career in general. They may be branded a troublemaker. And yet, they still took advantage of a moment when they were highly visible to make a statement and stand for their beliefs.
One of the delightful things about this action is its simplicity. All Ayesha Tan Jones needed was a pen, a message, and the will to deliver it. Writing their message across their palms would have only taken moments and delivering that message to the crowd only required a subtle shift in position. The gesture was so seamlessly knit into the show that, within the context of the conveyor belt of models, many in the crowd interpreted it to be an intentional, planned moment. This to the point that Gucci’s press officer had to publicly address it and confirm it was not planned, bringing additional, unexpected, visibility to Ayesha Tan Jones action.
Afterward, on Instagram, Ayesha Tan Jones posted a video of the moment making it clear they had weighed the cost of speaking against Gucci and decided they could not stand by without registering their dissent. They took advantage of the visibility of the event and their part in it, to stand up for their beliefs.
Ayesha Tan Jones' elegant gesture was profoundly moving and effective. They seized a moment of visibility to protest.
Understanding where you fit in any given situation, and how you can leverage that position for good, is critical to effective nonviolent action. Do your peers look to you for advice? Do you have visibility? And by this I do not necessarily mean being solely in the spotlight. Ayesha Tan Jones was one of a long line of models, all wearing similar clothing and holding the same pose, and it was by their small variation that they made their statement.
We all have power, even in the most imbalanced scenarios.
Methods of Nonviolent Action employed:
 Nonviolent action No. 52: Silence
 Nonviolent action No. 29: Symbolic Reclamation?
 Nonviolent actions No. 26: Paint as Protest, No. 19: Wearing of Symbols, No. 7: Slogans, Caricatures, and Symbols, and No. 8: Banners, Posters, and Displayed Communications
 Nonviolent action No. 78: Workmen’s Boycott
 Nonviolent action No. 98: Quickie Strike (Lightning strike)
 Nonviolent action No. 136: Disguised Disobedience