By now, everyone is well aware of the recent surge of blackface in high fashion– and whatever you would call Katy Perry’s shoe collection. Between Gucci’s ridiculous balaclava sweater and Prada’s bag charms, the world may start to question: is blackface the new black? People were quick to point out the seemingly obvious connection to blackface, and it makes you wonder, how did these brands not see it? Who is really in charge? Thanks to overwhelming public outcry, brands like Gucci and Prada have announced new initiatives to increase diversity hiring. CEO and president of Gucci, Marco Bizzarri, expressed “shortfalls in [their] ongoing strategic approach to embedding diversity and inclusion.” Their new initiative promises global and regional director positions as well as scholarships. The real question is: will they live up to the promise?
Once a brand has undergone the scrutiny of the public eye, it is easy to assume that it would do everything in its power to change this. However, the goal is often to change the reputation, not the actual system. This is not the first time we have seen a luxury brand promise to do better after negative backlash, and blackface is sadly not the only offensive “mistake” made by luxury brands. Just this past December, Dolce & Gabbana came out with the awful ad campaign for “The Great Show.” A mansplaining voiceover and tacky “oriental” music loomed over a Chinese model struggling to eat Italian foods (pizza, a cannoli, and spaghetti) with chopsticks. Did D&G not realize that many traditional Chinese dishes include noodles? This is only the latest in a string of Dolce & Gabbana scandals stretched over the past few years.
Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have a long history of making controversial comments. In 2015 alone, they voiced their disapproval for gay couples to adopt and claimed in vitro fertilization led to “children of chemistry” and “synthetic children.” Followed by butchered apologies and muddled excuses, the public justifiably called for a boycott. Their inflammatory behavior should have been enough to decrease sales, but a report by Business Insider Italia showed a 7 percent increase in annual turnover with a net profit of 80 million euros (94 million dollars) after their fiscal year ended March 31, 2017.
Most significant are their controversial clothing and accessories. In 2012, they debuted a collection featuring blackamoor. Earrings and fabrics adorned with black faces seemed to better resemble racist Mammy figures of the Jim-Crow era rather than the traditional Sicilian marionettes they were supposedly meant to be. And let us not forget the notorious “slave” sandals of 2016 priced at a steep $2,395. Their attempt at kitschiness was, and still is, embarrassing.
The list of controversies goes on, yet D&G was praised as
the “champions of diversity” for its Spring/Summer 2019 fashion show. Plus-sized models and the first black viscountess? The public was surprisingly pleased at this out-of-character approach which made it even more disappointing when “The Great Show” followed a mere two months later.
Minority groups in particular do their part to step up against the offensive, and sometimes racist, nature of high fashion, but as a collective we must do better to change the narrative if we want to save the face of high fashion. China’s response of cancelled shows, models backing out of deals, and a boycott is a great example. We must hold Gucci and Prada accountable, ensuring they live-up to the standards of diversity so that they can be better than brands like Dolce & Gabbana who continuously let us down.
Luxury brands are meant to represent the “[insert western country] dream,” but in this increasingly globalized world, that now spans over people of all cultures and backgrounds. Trends in high fashion should reflect the diversity of these markets instead of continuing to perpetrate outdated and offensive stereotypes.