Are Luxury Designers Racist?

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Recently there has been a lot of discussion around luxury brands and some of their designs.  Two weeks ago Gucci pulled a balaclava sweater from the boutiques and website after receiving backlash regarding its similarity to blackface.  I don’t see why Gucci or anyone else was surprised that this sweater caused such an uproar.  I’ve heard varied opinions on the subject ranging from “Gucci is racist” to “Get over it, it’s just a sweater”.

Then on Sunday Burberry debuted a sweater during London Fashion Week with a noose around the neck.  This is where it gets interesting.  There are a group of mental health professionals who saw this sweater and immediately felt it was insensitive because it encourages suicide.  Liz Kennedy even tweeted on Sunday “suicide is not fashion”.

The Black community would probably see something else when they look at the sweater.  ” How many people saw this before it made it to the runway?” asked Bernice King, the chief executive of the King Center and daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. “The larger question: How can people guard their hearts and minds from normalizing and trivializing symbols and images that historically represent racism, bigotry and oppression?

Here’s my take on both:  First of all I like Gucci.  I own a few pieces and up until recently I enjoyed wearing them.  I personally don’t believe the sweater was intended to be a racist attack on black people.  Being black myself and staying current on Gucci I’ve seen them make these sweaters and hats for years in many different color combinations. I never paid attention because I thought they were ugly.  Wearing one of those sweaters in public is suicide for a black person anyway.  I’ll leave that one to my Caucasian brothers and sisters.  They can get away with that shit.  We cant.

What I do think is that they have a history of not caring enough about black people to truly value diversity within their company.  If there was one black person involved in the design and release of this piece, someone would have probably said “hey, if we’re going to do the sweater in black we probably shouldn’t paint big red lips on it.  That design could be hurtful and offensive to blacks in America”.  Problem solved.

I don’t know what the hell Burberry was thinking.  I have no idea why anyone at Burberry would even think that was appealing, much less appropriate.  But hey, a lot of shit on the runway doesn’t make sense.

What the Burberry situation has proven is that two people can look at the same thing and see something completely different.  This should be a reminder to us all that we should respect others and not dismiss their anger just because we don’t understand it. It doesn’t make either of us right or wrong.  It just makes us different.

Life experiences shape perception.  So it’s easy to understand how mental health professionals and individuals who have lost friends or family member to suicide could look at the Burberry sweater and think suicide.  Likewise, if you are black and a descendent of slaves that sweater would take on a totally different meaning.  Same with the Gucci sweater.  Regardless to what non-black people think, IT LOOKS LIKE BLACKFACE!

In the future we need to continue to hold these designers accountable for their carelessness and insensitivity.  It’s shame that Gucci waited until this happened to realize how important diversity in the workplace really is.  They could have been on the cutting edge of the high-end fashion houses with some of the great launches they’ve had this year.  Instead they’re doing damage control.  Too little too late.

Will I continue to wear the Gucci pieces I already own?  Probably so, but not anytime soon.  Will I buy more Gucci in the future?  Probably not.

Tell me what you think

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