MILAN – Luxury fashion is all about breaking codes, creating a new, irresistible message that captivates consumers. But some of the globe's top brands have raised eyebrows with designs that have seemingly racist undertones.
The latest instance of that was Italian fashion designer Gucci, which produced a black wool balaclava sweater with an oversized collar that pulls over the chin and nose. It includes a slit where the mouth is, ringed with what look like giant red lips. Its similarity to blackface prompted an instant backlash from the public and forced the company to apologize publicly on Wednesday.
Gucci also withdrew the offending garment from sale on websites and stores. It said the incident would be “a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond.”
But the question persists: How can fashion houses that thrive on detail miss such critical social cues?
Prada similarly withdrew a monkey bag charm that recalled blackface in December, saying it “abhors racist imagery.” And Dolce & Gabbana issued a video apology after one of the designers made insulting remarks about the Chinese in a private chat discussing the questionable depiction of a Chinese model in a campaign.
“Luxury brands used to be able to get away with provocative and eccentric ads that push the boundaries of our society and culture in the name of being creative and cutting edge,” said Qing Wang, a professor of marketing at Warwick Business School.
“However, a long list of recent incidents have caused public outrage, suggesting that era is now gone or that luxury brands have lost touch with public sentiment. What used to be considered “creativity” has now turned into “bad taste” or even “racist,” he said.