In recent years, a number of artists have accused fashion brands of stealing from their work, including Brad Troemel (who pointed the finger at Vika Gazinskaya) and Barbara Kruger (who roasted Supreme). Now new allegations concern one of the biggest fashion houses in the world: Gucci.
Sharona Franklin, an artist based in Vancouver, Canada, who runs the popular Instagram account @paid.technologies, has accused Gucci of ripping off her art, which often takes the form of jelly cakes, the kind commonly served for dessert, but also, in Franklin’s work, allude to DNA therapies and medical treatments that she has received for multiple chronic illnesses. The cakes are made with animal cells of a kind that have been used to treat people with her disability, and she alleges that her work looks similar to pastel-toned jelly sculptures surrounded by flowers on silver trays and brocade tablecloths in Gucci’s recent “Cruise 2020” campaign.
According to Franklin, Gucci contacted her about including her work in the campaign—but then the brand reneged. After a series of messages to an email address connected to her @paid.technologies account, she told representatives her identity, and she believes that once they researched her online, they backed out after discovering her disability and her activist-oriented work, which has involved calling out brands for co-opting the aesthetics of medical treatments and accessibility. “I gave them my full name, and then after that I never heard from them again,” she told ARTnews. “I lost so many opportunities in the past by disclosing my disability to employers.”
Franklin said she was initially contacted in May by the British agency Simmons LTD, which wanted her to work on a shoot for what was described to her as “a large Italian house.” Only later, Franklin said, did she find out that it was Gucci, which asked her to sign an NDA that, she said, made no mention of dates, which she found vague and suspicious. Over a series of emails that were reviewed by ARTnews, Franklin and the agency set up a photo shoot for July.
As the date grew closer, Gucci representatives did not respond to emails, Franklin said. Ultimately, a representative told her, in an email reviewed by ARTnews, “Due to the budget they are looking into someone else to execute in Europe.”
“I hadn’t even spoken with them about a budget! I live in social housing, and I’m on social assistance, so it’s kind of shocking,” Franklin said, noting that her cakes are cheaply made and that her production tends to be funded by donations. She continued, “I’ve never worked a large job, and I’ve never signed an NDA before. I was kind of surprised.”
Contacted by ARTnews, a representative for Simmons LTD said, “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.”
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Franklin said her jelly works are related to her disability and echo her feelings of alienation while undergoing the biotechnical treatments she has received since she was a child. When one eats jelly cakes, one is ingesting animal cells from connective tissue that some individuals may need to consume when undergoing recombinant DNA therapy, which has been administered to patients with immunodeficiency disorders and forms of cancer.
“Within wellness culture,” Franklin said, “so many diseases are being advocated as being curable by veganism. But for so many people with degenerative diseases, what’s actually healing us is these cells.”
After others asked if she had made the jelly cakes in the Gucci campaign, Franklin went public with her allegations via Instagram, where she said she received many messages related to coercive NDA agreements with brands and companies in the fashion world and beyond. Now the artist wants to direct her energy toward making others aware of the constraints of these contracts, rather than taking legal action against Gucci. “Yesterday, I was at the hospital for a couple hours getting tests and treatments, and I’m trying to balance things,” she explained. “I don’t have a lot of expendable energy, and they’re such a big corporation.”