In recent years, fashion houses have been making strides in diverse representation and appreciation of people of all color, genders, and sizes on their runways. Some examples would be fashion houses such as Valentino (their spring 2019 couture show had predominantly black models, including Naomi Campbell), Chanel (recently released a makeup line for men), Burberry (their Fall 2018 ready-to-wear collection was a dedication to the LGBTQ community and its organizations), Sirano (known for their diverse model casting that includes plus-sized models and women of color), and 11 Honoré (Laverne Cox recently closed their runway at NYFW).
However, there is still a major epidemic among high-end designer labels in terms of racial inequality, racist imagery and nuances, and trans- and fatphobia. Most recently, designer labels Gucci, Prada, and Moncler have faced major backlash for racist imagery in their clothing and accessories. In addition, other labels such as Victoria’s Secret and Victoria Beckham’s namesake brand have been accused of being either transphobic, fatphobic, or both. While there has been great progress for a more diverse fashion industry, there is still tremendous work that needs to be done to improve inclusivity and social awareness.
Once a beloved, socially aware brand, Gucci recently has come under scrutiny for racial disparity and racist nuances in their clothing. Their Spring/Summer 2019 ad campaign was a homage to “the golden age of Hollywood musicals,” but lacked minority representation and instead showcased white actors and actresses as being the main focal point of this “golden age.” Shortly after the release of this campaign, the brand made headlines once again for pieces in their Fall 2018 ready-to-wear collection, a black turtleneck balaclava and a mask that greatly resembled blackface.
Other brands that have stirred up racial controversy are Balmain, Prada, and Moncler. Balmain has been accused of both white washing and black face in their Spring 2019 couture line. Models of color were either made to appear of lighter or darker complexion.
Prada came under fire back in December for their Pradamalia figure of one of the fashion house’s oldests mascots “Otto” the monkey. The label pulled the $550 keychain from stores after it was pointed out to them the resemblance of the figurine to blackface.
Moncler faced major backlash for their 2016 collaboration with FriendsWithYou. This collab featured several pieces that contained blackface symbolism and an actual doll that too closely resembled the “Little Sambo” caricature.
“I increasingly think anything one does today can cause offense,” Miuccia Prada told WWD at Fondazione Prada. “There can sometimes be a lack of generosity but, on the other hand, how can we know all cultures?”
Actor and rapper, T.I., has recently called for a boycott against several of these brands and has offered black-owned and culturally aware labels as favorable alternatives. And while it is impossible for a single person to know the details of all cultures, one way this could be circumvented is by greater inclusivity and diversity in the business of fashion. Positions of employment, both executive and non, can and need to be filled by many more people of color.