February is denoted as the month of celebrating black people and their achievements. Although in the very duration, another blackface controversy arose in the world of fashion. The offender wearing a sweater made by the world’s current favorite Italian luxury brand: Gucci.
A slim and tall white model with shiny brown hair is photographed against a gray tone backdrop. A black colored turtleneck sweater takes up most of the bottom half of her face. Except for her mouth which peeks through a cut-out of the very fabric. The mouth-hole is outlined with red in the shape of what appears to be lips.
The sweater retails for about $890 with the product being named, a wool balaclava jumper. This was shared on social media by a twitter user. Raising intense backlash, many calling the garment’s design “racist,” or “Haute Couture Blackface,” as one person mentioned it. The sweater was a part of Gucci’s fall-winter 2018 collection. The multicolored knit balaclavas (a type of cloth headgear) featured in the range, were inspired by vintage ski masks. The description said, noting that the turtleneck “combines the accessory with the ready-to-wear collection.”
A Twitter user asked, “I get the idea that they were going for . . . BUT WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE BLACK?”
For many, the garment design and the way it was created closely resembled the title character of a 19th-century children’s book. Known as, “The Story of Little Black Sambo” which has historically been used as a racist trope. Few of the many people argued that the design was ‘intentional’. The ‘Boycott GUCCI’ calls started soon after!
Some social media users defended Gucci, calling the blackface accusations a reach. Although, the brand had recently issued an apology for the sweater via social media. Swiftly promised to stop the sale of the very design.
The formal apology letter issued by the company read – “Gucci deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the jumper. We can confirm that the item has been immediately removed from our online store and all physical stores. We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected, and at the forefront of every decision we make. We are fully committed to increasing diversity throughout our organization and turning this incident into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond.”
Considering how the controversy was initiated and ultimately handled with utmost superiority by the brand, I believe that it couldn’t have been intentional. In fact, just after they offered an apology in front of their huge fan base, the company launched their first four initiatives in a long-term plan of actions designed to further embed cultural diversity and awareness in the company. Marco Bizzari, Gucci President and CEO stated, “We accept full accountability for this incident, which has exposed shortfalls in our ongoing strategic approach to embedding diversity and inclusion in both our organization and in our activities.” Marco met with Dapper Dan and other community leaders as well as other experts and industry leaders in Harlem to receive their perspective and insights.
Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s Creative Director also put forth his statement, “My entire life has been dedicated to fighting to grant myself and any other the possibility to be different and to freely express themselves. I look forward to welcoming new perspectives to my team, and together working even harder for Gucci to represent a voice for inclusivity.”
The fashion fraternity has also been touched by other racial controversies in the past. In December 2018, a former Moschino worker accused the brand of racially profiling black customers by using the code name “Serena.” The month before, Dolce & Gabbana ads were criticized for stereotyping Chinese people. The fact that these incidents continue to happen shows just how deeply ingrained racism is in society as of today, but we believe fashion is taking its steps to move in the right direction – slowly, but surely.