Why has blackface made its way back into fashion?

As fashion councils find themselves in hot water with increasing frequency, they have begun to look to outside sources for help. Notably, after Prada and Gucci faced public outrage against blackface, both houses took steps in the right direction, acknowledging their mistakes and moving forward by creating new institutions for awareness.

Prada came under fire in December of 2018 after creating a monkey keychain that referenced stereotypical black features in a derogatory manner. It was pulled from stores, but prompted action from executives.

Source: Business of Fashion

In February of 2019, Prada formed a Diversity Council, enlisting artists Ava DuVernay and Theaster Gates to filter for insensitive content and “elevate voices of color.”

Gucci also faced backlash in early February 2019 when they released a new turtleneck. The public was shocked that no one caught the outfits’ resemblance to minstrel dressing and blackface.

The black sweater features bright red around the mouth opening, which many viewers pointed out was a defining feature of caricatures drawn of African-Americans.

Source: @fuckrashida

After much criticism and a social media firestorm, the turtleneck was pulled from Gucci’s website. The company issued an apology saying, “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.”

Importantly, Gucci followed up their apology with a concrete plan for action which begins with hiring diverse talent and finishes with self-education. Alessandro Michele, noted fashion designer and creative director of Gucci, states that the company is “working even harder for Gucci to represent a voice of inclusivity.”

Although a Diversity Council helps to ensure that different perspectives are heard, Prada can learn from Gucci’s response: The only real way to remain accountable to a diverse group of consumers and critics is through actually having a diverse team.

Fashion has a history of tumultuous relationships with marginalized communities. It is time for designers to think about the implications of their pieces prior to sending them down the runway. Moreover, companies need to increase oversight on their designs so that racist and derogatory articles are stopped and addressed at their creation.

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