Nothing bolsters the gender binary quite like holiday gift guide season. Since the dawn of consumer capitalism, department stores and designers have offered up ideas for “Him” (wallets, whiskey stones), and “Her” (purses, perfume samplers) with little room for fluidity.
New York-based fashion and culture commentator José Criales-Unzueta noticed Gucci’s addition during his annual research into the gifting trends of various fashion houses. This is the first time he has noticed a third option separate from men’s and women’s.
“Interesting to see Gucci being the only big luxury player adding a non-binary gifting guide to their holiday shopping offering,” Criales-Unzueta posted on Instagram. “I bring this up because it’s a very interesting, and smart, approach at an ‘inclusive’ online Holiday gifting experience. It is worth to point out that there is no new product under this guide, it is just a different curation of core product that can appeal to a non-binary shopper.”
Indeed, the “Them” section conjured up bright red lipsticks, dangling earrings, plaid sneakers, skirt suits, ties, and cardigans—all products that could be found elsewhere on the gendered part of the site. Nothing was new or appeared to be designed by a non-binary or trans person.
The “Them” gesture could be described as a corporation’s shallow, naked attempt at wokeness. Or would it allow certain customers to feel seen for the first time? Could it be a little bit of everything, a clunky, but well-intended, performance of diversity?
The Daily Beast asked representatives for Gucci two easy-enough questions: Were any non-binary people involved in curating this selection, and will the brand make any charitable donations to LGBTQ organizations with the proceeds? They declined to answer.
It should be noted that Gucci has loudly championed gender-fluid dressing. We are in the third week of a nontroversy regarding asinine conservative commentary on what makes a “manly man,” inspired by Harry Styles’ Vogue cover. The much-discussed baby blue Gucci dress Styles wore for the photoshoot was designed by Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele.
In July, the label’s website launched Gucci Mx, a non-binary, gender-fluid section of e-commerce. A representative for the brand noted that the page isn’t a new collection, exactly. It’s just existing designs modeled on various models “without having to comply with a rigid female/male distinction.”
One rigid distinction Gucci Mx models do have to comply with: size. As noted in various publications upon its debut this summer, the Mx aesthetic is still painfully fatphobic, adhering to a tired standard of “androgynous” models that would not look out of place in a 1990s Calvin Klein underwear advertisement.
Criales-Unzueta told The Daily Beast that he received mixed reviews in comments and DMs regarding Gucci’s efforts. “I think the reactions range somewhere on the spectrum between, this is such an obvious marketing strategy all the way to, this is great,” he said.
Criales-Unzueta shops in both the women’s and men’s sections of department stores. Even in a progressive city like New York, that can still draw some side-eyes.
“People are like, ‘Why are you trying that on?’” Criales-Unzueta said. “Especially in outlet stores that get divided by gender, in most cases. They’ll give you a free gift with purchase, and it’s flasks for men, makeup cases for women. I’ll be like, ‘OK, but I like the makeup case.’”
Though Criales-Unzueta recognizes Gucci’s non-binary gifting section as a marketing bonanza, he hopes it will “create a ripple effect” for other brands. “I’m curious to see if this is something that everyone does next year,” he said. “A lot of other brands don’t have the range. When it comes to the core product of brands like Givenchy or Dior, it’s so divided by gender. But with Gucci, their main symbols are so neutral—the G interlocking leather bag, the quilting, the jacquard patterns.”
Dev Seldon (they/them) is a dancer, actor, model and the creative director of Fluide Beauty, a makeup brand made for people of all gender expressions. “For me, someone who identifies as trans and non-binary, who is also Black and queer, I will always question when big brands do these sorts of things,” Seldon said. “If you still have a men’s and a woman’s section, you’re not really being non-binary.”
For Seldon, Gucci’s section “feels like a cash grab, a way to target Gen Z or appear to be with the times or trendy.” They also said it was a “really big red flag” that Gucci reps would not speak about whether non-binary consultants were paid or employed to help build this gift guide.
“It takes a lot of work to do the right thing,” Seldon said. “To me, the fact that they’re not proud of where this is coming from raises concerns.”
Gucci’s gift guide will do little to help the trans and non-binary community, and much to make wealthy shoppers feel better about themselves. “I think it’s great that we as a whole are trying to be inclusive,” Seldon said. “But if you’re not doing it the right way, it’s detrimental. This is doing a lot more for Gucci than it’s doing for the non-binary, gender-fluid, and trans communities.”
And: what does “non-binary” even look like? “We all have different aesthetics, we all have different views of how to dismantle the binary,” Seldon explained. “The whole idea is, we can wear anything. We want to be able to express ourselves and wear whatever we want that is true to us, individually. That could change day-to-day for one person.”
“[Gucci’s] work is often exciting and free of rigid gender norms when it comes to their outward expression through marketing and campaigns,” Windust wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “But essentially, the large fashion houses in the industry are still embedded within a binary segmentation of their products. They only tend to 'stray' away from this, or make their product line more inclusive if there's either a) a marketing opportunity or b) it's based around selling product through gift guides.”
This does not mean that big fashion houses should be too afraid of cancellation or public condemnation to keep trying, said Rob Smith, founder of the gender-free store Phluid Project. “Gucci has been a leader in the marketing of ‘the future is fluid,’” Smith said. “But I always get concerned when it’s just a marketing campaign.”
“But we also have to be cautious that we don’t call out Gucci, criticize them, and then any other brand that’s looking at this be like, ‘Whoa, step back, remember what happened to Gucci,’” Smith said. “They can continue to improve. It’s progress, not perfection. The journey to inclusion is a journey, and it doesn't happen overnight.”
So: there is always next year. “I would love for Gucci to try again,” Seldon, the creative director, said. “I don’t think it’s over. But I want them to take the feedback and hire the right people and pay the right people. Then men, women, trans people, everyone, could express themselves in the way they want. When you authentically embrace gender-fluid fashion, you liberate everyone.”