Are Brands Racially Insensitive? | Blackface Edition
Katy Perry, Moncler, Prada, and Gucci... what do these brands all have in common? Apparently, their insufficient knowledge of racially offensive designs. Earlier this week Diet Prada, everyone’s favorite social media crusader, called out Gucci for a seemingly racist woolen jumper. Sparking a series of backlash and exposure of additional blackfaced designs from other brands.
The Gucci jumper featured a roll-up collar with full red lips, similar to a balaclava ( a wool garment covering the head and face, with exceptions of the eyes and lips) released and later worn by Rihanna. The use of black and red to depict this look sparks criticism and leads many to believe the luxury brand is racially insensitive and lacks diversity within its design team. The design strikes a strong resemblance to blackface portrayal of African Americans.
This is not the first time, and unfortunately will not be the last racially insensitive design we will witness this year. We are just at the tip of the iceberg, brands are showing they have little to no knowledge as to what is culturally inappropriate, and their lack of design research before launching a product. These similarities are illustrated in the Prada keychain motif scandal that broke, also by Diet Prada, in December. As seen in the picture below the monkey bares a striking resemblance to blackface images used to depict African Americans in history.
As we move down iceberg into colder territory, Moncler was dragged into the spotlight, once again. For featuring a motif with full red lips, resemblance to a monkey on a black “Malfi” parka jacket; among several other designs in this collection, from a few seasons ago. A design the brand backed as “penguin inspired,” however, it has more aesthetic attribute’s in common with Jim Crow than the black and white bird.
Seeing the seemingly never-ending cycle one must ask, are design teams ignorant or just uncaring? It's starting to feel like there is a hidden world of racism, as more and more racially offensive designs (visible or not) hit the market. Was the product development team aware of the history they based the design off of, especially in the case of Prada? In an era where information is easily accessible, I beg to question if it was intentional or a lazy design approach.
Should research and understanding of foreign concepts, cultures, and histories not be sufficiently conducted and understood before these products hit the market? Why is it that in 2019 we are facing these problems? It is not just merely excusable for CEO's and Creative Directors to apologize by blaming the mishaps on "bad design" and citing it is a "lesson to learn from." I believe these incidents are the product of a rapid fashion cycle, along with lack of control and diversity within the fashion houses.
How is it that brands are idolizing black celebrities, from Cardi B, ASAP Rocky, to Kanye; yet blazingly disrespects their heritage one season later? These influencers have brought these brands into a new light; showing their following, they are loyal to these designs through collaborations, attending shows, and purchasing power.
A call to arms from several heavyweight Rap and Hip-hop stars to boycott the brands has taken place. During black history month, these insults hit harder to home, while many African Americans struggle with the current racial climate in America. Boycotters are among the likes of Director Spike Lee and Rapper T.I.P.
What can be done to correct these wrongdoings? After issuing a statement claiming that this is a “learning moment for the brand” Gucci’s CEO will travel to Harlem for a lesson in culture given by no other than Dapper Dan.
Let’s hope the little chat with Dapper Dan does Gucci and many other labels some good.
Stay tuned for updates on this #HotTopic.