A disabled artist called out Gucci for agreeing to commission her signature gelatin sculptures for its Cruise 2020 campaign, only to ‘ghost’ her and rip off her work with another creative.
Sharona Franklin said she was ‘disheartened’ when the opportunity fell through after being in talks with the brand. However, when she saw work that looked undeniably like hers on Gucci’s Instagram page soon after, she broke her silence about her experience liaising with their team.
Vancouver-based Sharona said she had been contacted by the luxury fashion brand back in May, after they came across her distinctive and elaborate designs on Instagram. After back-and-forward email and phone conversations, Sharona signed a Non Disclosure Agreement to work with them and said she was ‘so excited’ having dreamed of an opportunity like this since she ‘was a kid’.
The artist: Sharona Franklin, 32, was ‘upset’ and ‘disheartened’ to see work that bore more than a passing resemblance to her own used in a Gucci campaign after she was in talks with them
Spot the difference: Sharona shares her pieces via the Instagram account @paid.technologies, which is where Gucci initially came across her work
Look alike: After liaising with Sharona, Gucci’s team backed out of the collaboration, only to unveil this piece on their own Instagram earlier this month
Sharona, who has multiple chronic illnesses and lives in social housing and relies on social assistance, has gained a social media following and was recently featured in the New York Times about the growing genre of ‘Jell-O art’.
Sharona told DailyMail.com that the fashion brand came across her work via her art Instagram account, @paid.technologies, which didn’t have her personal name on it at the time.
‘After a few emails and some correspondence I signed an NDA, we spoke on the phone following that. The NDA didn’t discuss any fee, nor did our email correspondence.
‘We never discussed their budgets or the cost at all. Following our phone conversation, they were supposed to send over the contract and that never happened.’
During her lengthy liaison process with Gucci, Sharona said that she even shared in-depth plans for what she would create for the campaign.
However, the offer was rescinded from the label, who cited budgetary concerns – despite no fee ever having been discussed.
This email came after Sharona had discussed her technique at length; describing how she makes her creations and how to inlay the items in the layers of gelatin.
Jell-O art: Sharona spent time on the phone explaining how she creates her edible gelatin sculptures, above
Campaign: After ‘ghosting’ her and canceling the arrangement, Gucci shared the above teaser as part of their new campaign
When Gucci’s Cruise 2020 campaign dropped online earlier this month – attributed to set designer and regular Gucci collaborator David James White – Sharona said she was immediately alerted by ‘strangers’ who could see the blatant similarities.
‘I think I was feeling pretty disheartened at the time as I’ve been getting a lot of medical treatments and had a lot going on physically with my state of illness and just meeting my bare living necessities that seeing this felt extremely overwhelming as if it was a cosmic joke,’ she said.
‘I was pretty upset because when Gucci initially contacted me they were working on a campaign about reproductive rights, I had read that in the news and I was really excited because I knew that they had been trying to work with advocacy and marginalized people and I was wondering if they had seen my book online Rental Bod at Printed matter NYC, which was the work that I’ve done and reproductive rights.’
She not only thought it was ‘strange’ that Gucci told her in an email that she was ‘out of their budget’ when no money had ever been discussed, she was also confused why they said they were going to use a local designer when that wasn’t the case either.
‘A lot of different things crossed my mind and it became very apparent to me quickly that they had no moral interest in protecting marginalized people or value in collaborators ethically. I really didn’t plan on saying anything (due to the NDA) but the messages keep kept coming into my inboxes and I was actually losing sleep over it.
Support: Sharona’s fans called out Gucci when they shared their campaign which seemed like a dead ringer for her own artwork
On Instagram, Sharona wrote, ‘As a disabled artist who lives in social housing, on social assistance this was going to be a huge opportunity for me that I was really excited about.
‘I’ve looked forward to sharing my concepts for a project like this since I was young and have been making these cakes since I was a kid with my grandmothers hand grown flowers. To be ripped off by a huge fashion label worth 47.2 billion dollars is more than disheartening.
‘Ripping off disabled artists is not fashion,’ she concluded. ‘Pay disabled artists!’
Sharona also said clarified that she did not personally have the funds to liaise with a lawyer before signing the NDA.
‘I shared the post about my experience to take a stand on the importance of ethical collaborations and the tireless work that disabled people spend our whole lives going through to seek equanimity. I didn’t anticipate my story to generate as much support as it has, and for so many people to request justice. I’m really grateful for that,’ she told DailyMail.com.
Sharona has been making fun cakes for her siblings since she was a child, often using found objects. In her early 20s, she turned her attention to making sculptural edible works and has been showing them in gallery settings since her mid 20s.
She said, ‘I was always into drawing, sewing, fashion and painting. I was really into nature and I gardened with my grandmother and I would pick flowers, wild herbs and such. My family lived in trailers in a rural town (I grew up with seven other siblings in two trailed homes) and I made cakes for friends birthday and for my siblings.’
Sharona’s story was picked up by fashion industry watchdog account Diet Prada, who routinely highlight instances of malpractice.
Distinctive: Sharona told DailyMail.com she has been creating Jell-O art like the above for over 10 years
Recognition: The Vancouver-based artist, 32, was featured in the New York Times before Gucci contacted her via Instagram
Sharing Sharona’s story, the account wrote, ‘Gucci has been known to bring in under-the-radar creatives to collaborate with. The high-profile exposure and subsequent opportunities that come with working with an international luxury brand at the cusp of creative and commercial success have propelled many careers.
Diet Prada clarified, ‘It’s the inclusion of non-food items and foods chosen more for their aesthetics than flavor that bear too many similarities to Franklin’s work, of which the images depict the jellies as objects of marvel and are photographic works themselves.
‘Apparently, the word that’s circulating internally at the company is that she was to be hired as a ‘set assistant’, which fails to make any sense as any local food or prop stylist could’ve been hired…’
The account also shared a series of screenshots of emails, confirming that Sharona and Gucci were in talks.
Speaking to Fashionmagazine.com in Canada, Sharona also divulged that Gucci specifically asked her about her disability – something she found ‘rude’ and ‘interrogative’.
‘They specifically asked me [about my disabilities], which I think is rude and interrogative. If someone identifies as a disabled person, just as someone identifies as trans or a person of color, it’s nobody’s right to ask them to verify or specify what that is out of a medical context.
‘Disabled people… have to work so much harder to get to the same places that non-disabled people experience professionally,’ she added.
‘I think [fashion brands are] really great at showing the aesthetics of how to work with people, especially people with disabilities. They look to find people who are very visibly disabled [without] the understanding of how to treat people.
Proof: Fashion industry ‘watch dog’ account Diet Prada shared evidence of Sharona’s correspondence with Gucci
Unfair: Social media users tagged Gucci questioning why they would ‘bail’ on Sharona and have someone else ‘execute’ her idea
‘Zero credit’: An impassioned fan of Sharona’s slammed Gucci for ‘ripping her off silently’
Gucci provided Fashionmagazine.com with the following statement:
‘Brightly colored jellies have been used previously by Gucci as a campaign decoration and have often been incorporated in designs throughout the years by different artists and chefs. Each selection process – for a campaign, for a show, for an event – consists of a series of phases before an artist is chosen for a collaboration.
‘We do not always proceed with every artist we approach for consideration for a variety of reasons that can be logistical, technical or time-related. We nonetheless have the highest respect and appreciation for the creativity of all of the artists we consider, even if they are not selected for a collaboration.’
Controversy: Ayesha Tan-Jones (pictured) sparked a debate over Gucci’s decision to feature straitjackets in its show at Milan Fashion Week
This has been the latest in a series of controversies for Gucci.
Last month, the brand sparked a heated debate when a line-up of models walked down a conveyor belt in straitjackets during their Milan Fashion Week show.
In protest, non-binary model Ayesha Tan-Jones scrawled the words ‘mental health is not fashion’ on their hands before walking.
Ayesha took to Instagram to reveal they had made a stand after their own mental health struggles, and history of depression, bipolar and anxiety within their family.
Gucci responded with a statement on Instagram, saying the straitjackets had been used as a symbol of ‘the most extreme version of a uniform dictated by society and those who control it’.
Gucci stressed that the clothes were a ‘statement’ created for the show and will not go on sale, saying that creative director Alessandro Michele designed the garments ‘to represent how through fashion, power is exercised over life, to eliminate self-expression’.
Earlier this year, the brand had to withdraw an $890 balaclava jumper that covered the chin and mouth, with cut-out red lips, after accusations it resembled blackface.