The Gucci Gang is a force to be reckoned with, paving the way for a generation of women to smash taboos while offering them a platform to express themselves entirely free of judgement.
Made up of teenagers Annabelle Ferrera (19), Angelina Woreth (19), Crystal Murray (17) and Thaïs Klapisch (18), Gucci Gang recognised they were missing a space to share their experiences, feelings and doubts about how they were treated by their intimate partners. In France, 1 in 7 female identifiers under the age of 25 will face violent behaviour by their partner, yet survivors have the least access to services to support them. Instead, young women are turning to friends and the internet for help – sources that aren’t specialised in violence – or even worse, they're not sharing their experiences at all.
In response, the change makers kickstarted Safe Place and together, they’re raising awareness around gender-based violence. Their aim is to create safe spaces for open dialogue, extending support networks for young people who have experienced abuse by their intimate partners.
In partnership with TOMS and in aid of En Avant Toute(s ) (to Stand for Respect), we sat down with the Parisian it-girls ahead of their second show in France to learn more about Safe Place and why the initiative is so necessary.
Hey Gucci Gang, what are you standing for with TOMS?
The idea behind Safe Place is to challenge taboos we’ve always felt in society. It’s about a lot of subjects, but mostly femininity, sexuality and the young female experience.
Tomorrow, we’re exhibiting the work we’ve been working on for two years now. This is our second event, and we’re lucky to collaborate with TOMS that is already a committed brand. It’s cool to be able to unite with an existing identity and brand for women's cause. Safe Place is still quite small, so it’s really encouraging to have TOMS’ confidence and for us to be able to help the organisation of our choice: En Avant Toute(s). This event allows us to put a lot of women and their amazing projects under the spotlight, and we’re very grateful to TOMS for helping us achieve this.
How did ‘Safe Place’ come to be; why is it so necessary? There are a few initiatives by the government that are really good, but we didn’t see ourselves using them, for example calling one of the phone numbers they've provided to talk about our problems. We simply noticed that if something were to happen to us, we wouldn’t turn towards those infrastructures as a first reflex. It’s amazing that they exist and we don’t want to point fingers at family planning or government helplines because they have already been useful to some of us, but I feel like it would be difficult for me to call a number monitored by the government if I experienced aggression. It’s important to create a more intimate bond with people to really be able to offer help. It’s important to meet up in real life or have interactive mediums like En Avant Toute(s)’ group chat. They also have events where people can come to discussions panels and talk to psychologists, sexologists, etc. and this is what makes the difference. I think there is definitely a need for this today.
"The real work should be education: people need to be taught at school that hitting your partner isn’t normal, that beating anyone up actually, isn’t normal."
In your opinion, what can be done to help prevent more people experiencing violent behaviour in their relationships?
Through speaking, listening, trusting women who do speak up about the violence they experience. We need to provide opportunities for people to speak up, for those that don’t know how, or for those that don’t have help, especially for those that find available infrastructures too official. A lot of women are scared of going to the police, some do, aren’t always welcomed as they would’ve expected or hoped for: their testimony is challenged, they are made to feel like they’re not believed and no one’s going to help, so it was all in vain.
3919 was created this year by a minister, but I doubt women who are threatened by their partner will feel comfortable enough to ring up an official number. The victims’ situation is very complex; there is love, fear, they don’t necessarily want to denounce, we need the government to do more than making a phone number available. The real work should be education: people need to be taught at school that hitting your partner isn’t normal, that beating anyone up actually, isn’t normal.
Society often forgets that violence doesn’t belong to any particular gender or type of person. How can we help dismantle the stereotypes of what an abusive partner “looks like”?
Even if our project is essentially feminine, it has to do with the education of the population in general. It works both ways, we’re using the video we made to shed light on important issues, the message might feel closer to girls, but of course, boys will watch the video too and realise things they might not have before. We think that social media will really help in propagating our message because we’re aware that the men present at the exhibition are already agreeing with our values for the most part, because they’re happy to travel in order to come and listen to women talk all day. We love meeting people in real life, but we really based our medium on the internet because it is most probable that an abusive/violent man stumbles upon our video via social media, we can have so much more impact on the internet through viral and randomly accessed videos.
Having self-talk style videos in which women describe their aggressor is primordial because it shows they’re not simple bullies but that the relationship is rather complex and involves a lot of feelings.
What’s happening in your area right now that everyone should know about?
Every neighbourhood is different, I (Crystal) live in the 20ème which is supposed to be sketchy, but I don’t feel that way about it. When I have friends coming over they might have people trying to talk to them in the street, which scares them, but I tell them not to worry about it, they’re just kids, not seriously dangerous people. In central Paris it’s rather safe, surprisingly the 16ème and areas that are empty like that are more dangerous. Better hang out in Pigalle or Strasbourg St Denis despite their lesser reputation than wealthier areas.
What are the other most significant issues young people currently face in Paris today?
Violence isn’t just physical if we’re talking about violence, we should be talking about many types of behaviours, both on boys and girls’ sides. Violence online is so serious and widespread; it’s mad to know that stars on Twitter correspond to abusive users of the platform. Even though we live from social platforms and they can be great, we need to be careful with them and be responsible ambassadors for social media as we’re aware they can be used to stigmatise others. Cyberbullying is a real big problem; young people die because of it, it needs to be taken seriously. We all need to think about giving back.
Lastly, what are your hopes and dreams for the future of France?
It might sound a bit utopian, but I think we’re all up for peace and love. Liberty, prosperity, serenity.
Words Tori West
Interview by Mélia Beaudoin
Imagery provided by TOMS
Answers translated from French and edited for clarity