Gucci ‘toddler mattress’ advert is latest in line of PR headaches for pop icon Harry Styles
Scathing film reviews, accusations of ‘queer baiting’ and the now notorious ‘spit-gate’ saga – it’s safe to say not everything has gone to plan for Harry Styles over the past year.
The talented British pop star, 28, is currently travelling the world as part of his Love On tour, and recently became one of the very few artists to finish a 15-show sold-out run at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The former One Direction singer has continued to enjoy great music success, particularly in the US, where he became the first ever soloist to spend at least 15 weeks at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his single As It Was. He’s also been nominated for six Grammy awards.
But not everything has been plain-sailing for former X Factor contestant, with accusations of ‘queer baiting’ once again erupting online – not helped by his clumsy comments on gay sex during the press tour for his latest film My Policeman.
Styles appears in the new ‘HA HA HA’ Gucci campaign in an array of outfits and with different props, including this toddler mattress. The images were released on November 2, several weeks before the Balenciaga scandal erupted
As if the behind-the-scenes drama on the Don’t Worry Darling set wasn’t awkward enough with the film’s premiere in Venice, spit-gate emerged. Fans were sent into a frenzy after they spotted Harry seemingly spitting at Chris as he took a seat next to him at the Venice Film Festival
He’s also been far from the critics’ choice in both of his movies this year, including Don’t Worry Darling, in which many said he failed to hold his own against the Oscar-nominated Florence Pugh – whose feud with the flick’s director and Harry’s then-girlfriend Olivia Wilde garnered far more press than the actual contents of the film.
And he is now being criticised for a Gucci ad campaign in which he poses in a teddy-bear t-shirt next to a toddler bed, just a few weeks after the fashion house’s sister brand Balenciaga was embroiled in a child imagery scandal.
It’s the latest in a long line of PR headaches for his manager and ‘best friend’ Jeff Azoff, 36, of Full Stop Management – whose wedding Harry officiated in 2021.
His team had to scramble to fight off accusations of queer baiting once again this year, as Harry hinted at not being straight but refused to label his sexuality, suggesting it is fluid. But fans pointed out that he has only ever dated – or at least been publicly seen dating – women.
In Don’t Worry Darling, critics said the star said he failed to hold his own against the Oscar-nominated Florence Pugh. Pictured, Styles and Pugh in a scene from the movie
British actress Florence Pugh arrives for the premier of the film ‘Don’t Worry Darlin’
Harry has been far from the critics’ choice in both of his movies this year, including Don’t Worry Darling, in which many said he failed to hold his own against the Oscar-nominated Florence Pugh – whose feud with the flick’s director and Harry’s then-girlfriend Olivia Wilde (pictured) garnered far more press than the actual contents of the film
Queer baiting describes the marketing techniques of entertainment companies or individuals who hint at same-sex attraction with the representation of ambiguous sexual identity without actually depicting LGBT sex or relationships.
Addressing the claims in a Rolling Stone interview this summer, Harry said: ‘Sometimes people say, ”You’ve only publicly been with women,” and I don’t think I’ve publicly been with anyone.
‘If someone takes a picture of you with someone, it doesn’t mean you’re choosing to have a public relationship or something.’
Backlash: Harry Styles was slammed by fans after making a comment that film depictions of gay sex are usually ‘two guys going at it’ (pictured in September)
Fans took to Twitter to criticise the singer for ‘speaking for queer people’ while ‘refusing to claim the community’
He added: ‘I’ve never talked about my life away from work publicly and found that it’s benefited me positively. There’s always going to be a version of a narrative, and I think I just decided I wasn’t going to spend the time trying to correct it or redirect it in some way.’
But not everyone was convinced, with some pointing to how he has been happy to be seen publicly with former flames like Taylor Swift, Kendall Jenner and Olivia Wilde, but has never been seen with a man or admitted to being with a man.
Speaking to Rolling Stone about his latest film, My Policeman, in which he plays a homosexual police officer hiding his sexuality in the 1950s, he then ignited further backlash when he spoke of his desire to express tenderness in its love scenes.
Harry said: ‘So much of gay sex in film is two guys going at it, and it kind of removes the tenderness from it.
‘I would imagine, some people who watch it who were very much alive during this time when it was illegal to be gay, and [director Michael Grandage] wanted to show that it’s tender and loving and sensitive.’
Fans took to Twitter to criticise the singer for ‘speaking for queer people’ while ‘refusing to claim the community.’
One Twitter user wrote: ‘A straight man thinking that he ate for saying that, queer people don’t need him and he better stop speaking for us. He’s just happy ’cause he stole queer culture for his benefits and fame, period.
‘If he doesn’t want to label himself idc [I don’t care] but he shouldn’t be giving his opinions about a community he doesn’t even want to claim.’
While the issue of queer baiting continues to be up for debate, the verdict on Harry’s acting chops, it seems, has more consensus – at least among the critics.
Harry was branded ‘criminally bad’ and ‘not very arresting’ in My Policeman, in which he stars as police officer Tom while Emma Corrin plays his wife Marion.
The plot focuses on Tom, who is gay, but married Marion due to expectations. He goes on to enjoy a romance with museum curator Patrick Hazelwood (David Dawson).
The Independent’s Jessie Thompson gave a devastating assessment of the ‘clunky’ period drama – which she said left Harry ‘overexposed as an actor’.
‘Harry Styles plays an officer of the law in 1950s Brighton – which is ironic, because his acting is criminally bad,’ she penned.
‘He does not have to say anything, but anything he does say will be delivered as though he read it on a piece of paper five minutes previously.’
Jessie said it is a ‘travesty’ that a ‘powerful’ leading performance could have elevated the film to ‘a superior category’.
It followed mixed reviews for Harry’s performance in Don’t Worry Darling, directed by his then-girlfriend Miss Wilde. While some critics agreed he has acting ability, most said these were dwarfed by his co-star and on-screen partner Florence Pugh.
Indeed The Daily Beast senior entertainment editor Marlow Stern criticised Harry for his inability to match Florence’s intensity.
They wrote: ‘The musician is like a deer in headlights throughout much of the proceedings, and a scene of him crying in the car following a particularly fiery row with Pugh is littered with more crocodile tears than Charlie Sheen being hauled out of his office by the cops at the end of Wall Street (not to mention, his bastardised British accent is a distraction).’
USA Today’s Brian Truitt also hit out at Harry’s accent and did not believe the two leads in the film were simpatico as they wrote: ‘Styles has already taken (warranted) grief for an accent that’s all over the place, and his Jack is also a bit of a nonfactor for much of the runtime, though he gets more to do after the Big Reveal. (If you’re paying attention, it’s not that hard to figure out what exactly is happening.)
‘The lack of chemistry between Pugh and Styles is another disconnect – her dynamic with Pine, albeit antagonistic, is far more effective and not explored nearly enough.’
But despite the lacklustre reviews, Don’t Worry Darling has enjoyed success at the Box Office, reaching number 1 in the both the US and the UK – perhaps proving once and for all that all publicity is good publicity.
It came after the film was at the centre of plenty of controversy off-screen as there were reports of a rumoured feud between Florence and director Olivia – sparking rumours of a love triangle with Harry in the middle.
A report from Page Six in late July claimed that Pugh was upset that Olivia was hooking up with Harry during production – while still married to Jason Sudeikis – before they split in November.
‘I can tell you for a fact that Flo seeing Olivia and Harry all over each other on set did not go down well as Olivia was still with Jason when she first hooked up with Harry,’ the source said.
Others noticed that Pugh sparsely posted about the film on her social media accounts, which also fuelled rumours of friction on the set.
It came amid reports that Harry and Florence had shared a kiss during filming and before Harry and Olivia began seeing each other.
It prompted rumours of a feud between Wilde and Pugh that continued after the film’s cameras stopped rolling. Sources close to Styles said that Wilde had been aware of the kiss, and his close friendship with Pugh, and that it had always been an issue in the relationship and a factor behind their decision to call it a day last month.
One told The Mail on Sunday: ‘While the news of the kiss only just emerged, Olivia has known about it and it was addressed but none of that was easy. The three of them were working together and, of course, afterwards Florence then was there to watch Harry and Olivia get together.
‘There were three of them working together day in day out, the director and the two leading characters.
‘The two stars kiss, then one of them gets together with the boss. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
‘Those things can put a lot of pressure on relationships.’
Matters became easier once filming ended but it was noted how Oxford-born Pugh, 28, pulled out of a number of planned interviews, and skipped both the press conference and the photocall to promote the movie at the Venice Film Festival in September.
A nanny who used to look after Olivia and her ex Jason Sudeikis’ two children – Otis, eight, and Daisy, six – alleged to the Mail that the actress, 38, had complained to her then-fiancé, 47, that Harry, 28, and Florence, 26, were hooking up behind-the-scenes, something an insider has since reiterated to The Sun.
‘Harry and Florence had chemistry from the off, which translated incredibly well on-screen. One night they had a bit of a snog, all very light-hearted and a bit of fun, and that was that,’ the anonymous insider told the outlet.
For months, speculation swirled about what exactly went down on the set of Olivia Wilde’s psychological thriller Don’t Worry Darling
According to the source, Florence and her ex-boyfriend Zach Braff had already gone their separate ways when she got involved with Harry, despite not going public with their split until months later. The insider added that Harry was ‘very much single at the time’ and that there ‘was no cheating or misbehaviour from anyone.’
However, the source claimed that when Harry and Olivia started spending more time together later on during the filming, they realised they had ‘a real connection’ – which reportedly left Florence unhappy.
The insider stated that there was ‘already tension between the two women,’ and when photos emerged of Harry and Olivia holding hands in early January at his manager, Jeff Azoff’s wedding, it was the final straw.
‘Later on, Harry and Olivia started spending more time together – sneaking off for coffees, hanging out in one another’s trailers, and sharing small, routine intimacies,’ they explained.
‘It was clear to all they had a real connection. When they were pictured holding hands for the first time, Florence wasn’t too happy. There was already tension between the two women and this undoubtedly fanned the flames.’
Whatever the truth, there was no public show of affection on the red carpet in Venice. Pugh hugged her co-stars and posed for selfies with fans and for photographers – but offered no outward display of fondness towards Wilde and Styles.
There was then the notorious ‘spit gate’ episode at the same festival, when video surfaced of the cast taking their seats and it appeared as if Harry had spit into Chris’ lap.
During the bizarre interaction, Chris – who is clapping as Harry takes his assigned seat next to him – seems to stop in his tracks, look down at his leg, and stick out his tongue in disbelief.
An insider has now reiterated these claims to The Sun – leaving many to wonder, was this what ultimately started the tension that went on to plague the set of the movie for months on end?
The laughing actor, 42, then shoots an amusing look back at the pop star – who is too busy adjusting his jacket and smiling around the room to notice Pine’s cheeky reaction.
Both Styles and Pine’s reps were quick to deny the incident took place – with Styles even joking about it at a concert – with Wilde, 38, confirming on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that the spitting simply did not happen.
A laughing Wilde said: ‘He did not, but I think it’s a perfect example of people will look for drama anywhere they can.’
A source close to Chris Pine told MailOnline: ‘Harry Styles did not spit at all. People are seeing some odd illusion of sorts online that is clearly deceiving.’
Chris’ representative told People: ‘Just to be clear, Harry Styles did not spit on Chris Pine.
‘There is nothing but respect between these two men and any suggestion otherwise is a blatant attempt to create drama that simply does not exist.’
Even before the damning reviews and off-set drama, Harry told Rolling Stone in August that he would be putting his acting career on hold, at least while focusing on his fourth album, which he said is already underway.
Indeed PR guru Mark Borowski thinks Harry will likely be ‘keeping his head down’ when it comes to acting before eventually ‘rising above’ the negative reviews.
He told MailOnline today: ‘What matters now is that Harry’s music is doing the talking, he’s received grammy nominations and is still an icon.
‘I think he will put his head down and rise above it, it’s very easy for these guys to bounce back.
‘Look at Johnny Depp, he’s already making headlines again despite everything from the past year.’
But Harry has come under fresh criticism this week for his Gucci ad campaign in which he poses in a teddy-bear t-shirt next to a toddler bed, just a few weeks after the fashion house’s sister brand Balenciaga was embroiled in a child imagery scandal.
Styles appears in the new ‘HA HA HA’ Gucci campaign in an array of outfits and with different props. The images were released on November 2, several weeks before the Balenciaga scandal erupted.
One shows Styles standing in front of a toddler mattress leaning against a wall, and in others he is seen caressing and carrying it. In others and in an accompanying video, he is seen dressing and undressing.
The campaign was conceptualized by former Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, who has since left the brand. Christopher Simmonds was in charge of art direction and Mark Borthwick was the photographer.
In the wake of the Balenciaga scandal – which saw the brand using children to advertise bondage-themed bears – the images have caused fresh controversy.
Gucci and Balenciaga are owned by the Kering group – a French powerhouse fashion conglomerate run by Francois-Henri Pinault.
In unveiling the images in November, Gucci called it a ‘performance piece’ by Styles.
‘Play is at the very heart of the Gucci HA HA HA collection…its name after all is the onomatopoeic sound of the written essence of the ‘laughing face’ emoji, as well as the serial crasis of the initials of ‘Harry’ and ‘Alessandro.’
‘Starting from those small oddities that come together in childlike visions, it turns into a ‘dream wardrobe’ reflecting the two creative spirits behind the collection.’
Styles with the toddler mattress in another set of images from the ad campaign shot earlier this year
‘Harry Styles enacts a theatrical piece where classicism meets play, transforming the wardrobe into a liberated platform where the masculine can embrace vanity,’ the brand said of it.
Among those who have criticised the ad campaign featuring Styles is Alexandra Zarini, whose great-grandfather founded the Gucci brand.
‘Why would you create a ‘performance piece’ with a toddler’s mattress and an adult man? My concerns are that there seems to be a common ideology across Kering’s Fashion Houses,’ she said.
Zarini runs The Alexandra Gucci Children’s Foundation, which combats child sexual abuse.
She previously revealed to DailyMail.com how Kering and Gucci turned down a partnership offer to work against child sexual abuse and exploitation in the industry.
Neither Gucci nor Kering has commented on criticism of the Harry Styles campaign.
But PR expert Mr Borowski believes it will do little to damage Harry’s brand – if he has the right team in place.
He said: ‘What we’re seeing more and more is that these social media ”backlashes” tend to just come and go.
‘It will depend on the strategy of his team now whether or not he goes to the next level.’
He added: ‘You need to ride the negative wave, and everyone needs a certain amount of negative publicity to generate traction.
‘All publicity is good publicity unless it’s an obituary notice, but it also depends on your team. It’s push and shove.
‘Someone like Harry Styles has a core fan base, much like Michael Jackson, which will always help shield him from damage.’
He added: ‘Don’t write an obituary for Harry Styles just yet, there’s still a lot of money on his ticket.
‘I think that what we are discovering now is that celebrities need to something pretty terrible to kill off their business because their fans still love them.
‘It’s a bit like a rollercoaster, but you find that you can overcome most things, you just have to do something positive to undo the negative – unless you go into Kanye mode, that’s an example of almost destroying everything.’