Wednesday 13 February 2019

Gucci Is Cancelled? Black Face - An Ignorant Mistake / Twisted Marketing Strategy? Lets Talk

So its 2019...2019 and we are still dealing with the ignorant bullshit that unfortunately we can't seem to escape - it's a shame to say that in 2019 all forms of racism are unfortuantely still alive and well. From Liam Neeson recently expressing in an interview that he wanted to 'kill black bastards' by his own admission, to the brand 'Monclear' who released a whole Golliwog clothing collection in 2016 (I cannot make this up) there is a lot that happens to black people that we have to navigate through overtly and covertly in daily life and the workplace, but what happens when racism is visually blatant in fashion? Are there repercussions? What do we do in the face of this kind of injustice where we are often made to feel that if we complain we are overreacting to a 'simple oversight' that can be fixed with an insincere five line paragraph apology?
The latest fashion house to create a ridiculous campaign which features a white model wearing an item of clothing that resembles black face is 'Gucci', who have since had to pull the item from their site amidst over whelming back lash (and so they should). Various music artists took to social media to express their anger and frustrations.

Dapper Dan - Fashion Designer
Russel Simmons

To put this into context for people reading this who may be struggling to understand why black face is racist and so offensive. Blackface holds its origins in the 1830's when minstrel shows debuted, when white actors would use burned cork or shoe polish to paint their faces black and perform shows to an aristocrtaic audience mocking black people and acting out stereotypes of black slaves. This foul practice was extremely popular in the southern states of America and amongst American Nazis. According to an article by Ferris Sate University, The Golliwogg created in England in 1895 also known as the 'Negro Minstrel Doll' became the face of minstrel shows and was largely popular amongst Europeans, portrayed as having black skin with huge thick lips, a loveable character that was 'hideous and had unruly hair' looked 'distorted' and 'frightening'. With all of this history it is astounding that this brand would think this is ok, and whilst fashion is about seeing how far you can push the creative boundaries there is a fine line between creativity and bullshit.

Gucci 2019 campaign Vs Minstrel show poster 1840's

I am personally disappointed and disgusted with the brand, but I am not at all surprised. Fashion has a history of being entrenched with racism. From the first black supermodel Naomi Sims being rejected from countless agencies because her skin was 'too dark', to some designers outrightly saying they do not want any black models in their shows, this latest slap in face campaign from 'Gucci' proves that there is still a long way to go. Although integral black figures like Edward Enniful (Editor in chief of British Vogue), Virgil Abloh (Artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton) and Naomi Campbell (supermodel) are household names in fashion, they are still anomalies in an industry where only 6% of the professionals are black, and less than 1% have graced covers like Vogue since its launch in 1892 - this is a serious issue, and not only that, its disturbing.

Naomi Sims the first black supermodel

I think the biggest issue in fashion is that currently the industry wants to appear diverse but it doesn't actually want to be diverse. It's not enough to have Virgil Abloh or Ozwald Boateng be the faces of black designers in the industry, the issue is far more deep rooted than that. There needs to be more black professionals in all areas of fashion, in design, in the recruitment office, in HR, in marketing, in the fashion cupboards at magazines, in styling, in photography, in editing, art directing, in hair and makeup.

I have personally experienced going for interviews in both high street suppliers and high end fashion brands for design interviews and whilst walking through their lofty open plan offices have not seen a single person of colour or a black person, and walking into the interview room knowing in the back of my head that although I am a bad ass designer, they have no one in their offices that looks like me. This Gucci campaign reinforces why it is imperative that both luxury and high street fashion companies create an inclusive atmosphere and diversify their staff, because then incidents like this could be avoided altogether if they had a different perspective on why a campaign like this is just plain wrong and unacceptable.

On one hand this can be viewed as stupidity and ignorance, and on the other hand I feel that many of these brands are purposely doing this in order for their campaigns to go viral because lets face it, bad press is still press, and a design has to go through senior designers and a marketing team before it is signed off for release, so I don't believe for one minute that this is an innocent mistake. This incident reminds of the Pepsi scandal where Kendall Jenner seemingly ends racism with a can of Pepsi (the audacity), and after issuing a weak ass apology the company had an alternative version of the advert lined up and ready to go. It really makes you wonder how far a company will go to promote their product.

*Sigh* In conclusion is cancelling brands like 'Gucci' and 'Monclear' the right solution? I think so, I have never purchased any of their products and I will not be purchasing any of their products in the future. I think the bigger question is why do we want to be validated by these brands so badly in the first place? I think its a mixture of social acceptance, and a symbol of hierarchy social status to covey to others that you can afford exclusive things that others cannot - not necessarily because we like the item or that its nice. What I would prefer is if black consumers stopped promoting and wearing brands that do racist things like this and started promoting and wearing black owned brands. Its not enough to cancel people, I think that the whole fashion industry really needs to educate themselves on history, it needs a complete restructure and the industry needs to abandon a lot of their archaic and biased views in order for there to be any real progression, and until that happens I think more incidents like this will unfortunately continue to occur. The best advice that I can give to anyone reading this is, take the time to research the brands you are spending money on, because the only way to really impact them is to hit their pockets and not spend with them.

Have a good week my loves, love the skin you are in, and remember to go where you're celebrated, not where you're tolerated. xx

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