Apparently Back to Black is "the new black" in the fashion world.
World-famous designer Jean Paul Gaultier's show for Paris Fashion Week on Wednesday featured an entire runway's worth of models dressed up distinctly in the style of the late Amy Winehouse, strutting up and down the catwalk in cat-style eyeliner and tight, colorful skirts while a barbershop quartet sang "Rehab."
People excited about this development: the beehive wig industry. Not nearly so thrilled: Mitch Winehouse, who said the show was "in bad taste" and "upsetting," and Amy's pal Kelly Osbourne, who tweeted that it was "lucratively selfish," an "exploitation," and even "evil."
It's always a fine line between respectful homage and grave-robbing, isn't it?
Arguments against Gaultier's allaged tribute include a combination of "too soon!" and "too gauche." Winehouse's father told London's Sun newspaper the family is "still grieving for her loss, and we've had a difficult week with the six-month anniversary of Amy's death. To see her image lifted wholesale was a wrench we were not expecting or consulted on…. We're proud of her influence on fashion but find black veils on models, smoking cigarettes with a barbershop quartet singing her music in bad taste."
Winehouse Sr. was referring to the fact that the otherwise cheerful show ended with all the models wearing black veils, an intended moment of sobriety amid the levity that only made things worse in the eyes of some of Gaultier's critics.
On the one hand, it's hard to understand what Mitch Winehouse means when he says, "It portrays a view of Amy when she was not at her best and glamorizes some of the more upsetting times in her life." It's not as if Gaultier has his models stumbling down the runway with bottles in their hands, and compared to the singer at her most gaunt, some of the models look like they might have eaten a sandwich in the last year, so it's a reasonably flattering depiction, ciggies aside.
Gaultier admitted backstage at his controversial runway show that while he has never met the singer, their "styles had always been similar."
Kelly Osbourne tried to imagine what her friend would have thought. "To be honest, and this is just 'my' opinion, she would have been [bleep]ing [bleep]ed," Osbourne tweeted. "However, the collection is wonderful and I love it!... It's barely been six months since her passing… I [heart] the collection... [but] it's just too soon he turned his obsession into attention."
You could argue that this is no less an honest tribute than the salute that Bruno Mars performed at the MTV Video Music Awards last August—and that was just a month after her death. But, of course, the for-profit commercialism does make Gaultier an easy target. "No one asked us for permission or offered to make a donation to the foundation," said Mitch Winehouse, suggesting Gaultier could have made at least token steps to prove his heart was in the right place.
The current controversy falls into a long line of incidents in which family members have attacked outsiders who tried to appropriate a late singer for their own purposes… or fallen prey to those attacks themselves.
Just this week, Michael Jackson's daughter, Paris, put her late father's sequined glove into wet cement in front of Grauman's Chinese. The idea that you don't even have to be alive to have your handprint pressed into the Chinese's forecourt doesn't strike everyone as representing the greatest possible taste… even if the family is the driving force behind it.
Kelly Osbourne's attempts to channel her late friend's thoughts notwithstanding, no one can tweet for certain what a dead celeb would make of the classy or crass-y attempts to keep their image alive. But when in doubt about what constitutes grave-sploitation, maybe Winehouse's catchphrase—"no, no, no"—should still be the operative one.
What do you think of Gaultier's "homage"? An honest tribute to Winehouse's ongoing influence on culture... or sheer posthumous profiteering?