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Valentino Michael Bailey-Gates

Pierpaolo Piccioli condemns backlash over ‘gender-bending’ Valentino image

The creative director has called out the negativity saying ‘evil is in the eye of the beholder’

Pierpaolo Piccioli has spoken out about an image from Valentino’s latest campaign after people on Instagram whipped themselves up into a frenzy over it. 

Over the weekend, Valentino released a new Collezione Milano campaign shot by Michael Bailey-Gates. One of the images is a self-portrait of the photographer and model, showing him nude and posing with a handbag from the collection. The image, bafflingly, sparked outrage on Instagram with people flooding the comments with the negativity and vomit emojis they usually reserve for women with body hair or visible tampon strings. To put into perspective the size of the response, the image currently has 10.1K comments. A second photograph from the campaign, posted on the same day, has 62.

It’s not immediately clear what is so offensive about this image which is perfectly lovely and relatively tame compared to many campaigns the fashion industry has come out with in the past. Bailey-Gates’s hair is on the longer side but many men – including Jesus – have similar styles. Is it the nudity? The handbag? The sensual stare? Whatever is it, people in the comments are very angry, levelling charges against Valentino and Bailey-Gates of “gender-bending”, “going against nature”, “poisoning the children”, and “disrespecting women” (we’re not sure either).

In response to this backlash, the brand’s creative director Piccioli shared a message on his personal Instagram condemning the hateful comments. “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,” he writes, continuing that he is proud to use his voice and his work to stand against all forms of hate, discrimination, and violence. “This picture is a self portrait of young beautiful man and evil is in the eye of the beholder, not in his naked body.”

He ends with: “Change is possible, no one ever said that it would be easy but I am ready to face difficulties, in the name of freedom, love, tolerance and growth.” Many people applauded Piccioli’s message including Indya Moore, photographers Inez & Vinoodh, Derek Blasberg, and Harris Reed who called the image “beautiful”.