Last week, Gucci’s $890 black balaclava turtleneck sweater was pulled out for having attributes of blackface. It had a cut-out in the mouth area with what looked like cartoonish red lips. The brand has since issued an apology, and its creative collaborator, Dapper Dan, also called them out for putting out an ill-advised piece.
The latest person to speak out and apologize is Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, who was recently invited to Harlem to meet with Dap and members of the community and other industry leaders from the area. Following the visit, he issued a personal letter to the company where he expressed his deepest regret for the piece, which he said wasn’t intended to evoke racist imagery.
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Fashion can’t seem to learn from its mistakes. Back in February 2018, dozens of iterations of the balaclava walked the @gucci runway in Milan. Based on vintage DIY knit ski masks, no one clocked them at the time for having any racist connotations…or maybe they went unnoticed among the layers and layers of styling. Rihanna even wore one version just a couple months later at Coachella. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Last night though, a knit black turtleneck balaclava with red cut-out lips resembling blackface that wasn’t on the runway, caught twitter’s attention…and Gucci’s almost immediately. Within a few hours, they pulled the sweater from sale and issued an apology. All things considered, it’s probably clear now that these brands are severely lacking the cultural context and knowledge to avoid these same pitfalls. If these global brands are serious about their commitment to increasing corporate diversity, it needs to happen at all levels and departments, not just the creative teams. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ • #gucci #skimask #fashion #knitwear #blackface #blackhistorymonth #luxury #luxurybrand #europeanfashion #turtleneck #balaclava #diy #knittingpattern #vintageknitting #pinterest #pinterestfail #rihanna #milanfashionweek #mfw #mfwss18 #ss18 #dietprada
“It was a tribute to Leigh Bowery, to his camouflage art, to his ability to challenge the bourgeois conventions and conformism, to his eccentricity as a performer, to his extraordinary vocation to masquerade meant as a hymn to freedom,” Alessandro wrote. “The fact that, contrarily to my intentions, that turtle-neck jumper evoked a racist imagery causes me the greatest grief. But I am aware that sometimes our actions can end up with causing unintentional effects. It is therefore necessary taking full accountability for these effects.”
Gucci is also making sure that it won’t end with just apologies. Fashionista obtained a memo that circulated internally from CEO Marco Bizzarri which stated a plan to implement a global cultural awareness program and a scholarship program to “facilitate an increase of different communities within the creative office.” Alessandro mentioned this in his letter as well. This comes after widespread accusation that the brand didn’t have a diverse pool of employees because if they did, the blackface-like balaclava sweater wouldn’t be made.
“We are truly committed in facing what happened as a crucial learning moment for everybody,” Alessandro wrote. We hope that this doesn’t happen again, too.[Fashionista]
Photo courtesy of Alessandro Micheles fan page’s Instagram account
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