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Why It’s Ridiculous for Gucci to Claim “Ignorance” in Its Blackface Designs

The luxury house says it will do better, but there’s reason to be skeptical.

Recent examples of blackface in fashion.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Gucci, Moncler, and Prada.

“I am a Black man before I am a brand,” Dapper Dan, the beloved designer and tailor, declared on Instagram last week after the revelation of an $890 Gucci knit top that resembled blackface, with a black pull-up neck and grotesque red-lip caricature. “Another fashion house has gotten it outrageously wrong,” he went on. “There is no excuse nor apology that can erase this kind of insult.”

Dapper Dan once famously re–mixed and matched knockoff Gucci prints and materials for members of the black community, many of whom had little or no access to the luxury brand. Just last year, in what was viewed as an effort to atone for failing to acknowledge his influence, Gucci reignited Dan’s designs and embraced him into the corporate fold with the company’s launch of his Harlem-based atelier. Now, a short time later, here we are. On Friday, Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri high-tailed his way to Harlem to meet with Dan and a group Dan described as “90% people of color” about the blackface controversy. Afterward, Gucci said it would step up diversity in hiring, bring on an executive focused on inclusion in New York, and launch a scholarship program in 10 cities.

 

 

 

Katy Perry Collections, the fashion line by the pop star, has removed footwear after they were accused of using blackface.

The sandals and loafers, designed with a face featuring prominent red lips, are no longer on sale at retailers including Walmart. A spokesperson for the company told TMZ: “In order to be respectful and sensitive the team is in the process of pulling the shoes.”

Perry has released a statement on the controversy, describing the shoes as part of a collection “envisioned as a nod to modern art and surrealism. I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface. Our intention was never to inflict any pain.” She said they had been “immediately removed” from the website for her fashion line.

Katy Perry at the Grammy awards this week.
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 Katy Perry at the Grammy awards this week. Photograph: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

The designs are the latest in a series of controversial items of clothing to be criticised for allegedly using the red-lipped Sambo caricature that has long been regarded as racist.

Last week, Gucci removed a black polo neck jumper from its shops that featured red lips designed to be worn over the face in a balaclava style. In December, Prada removed a series of accessories that resembled black monkeys with red lips.

In 2016, high-end winter sports brand Moncler released a series of designs featuring a black face with prominent red lips. The brand said it was meant to be the face of a cartoon penguin, “whose message is first and foremost one of global friendship”, but removed the designs, adding: “We are deeply troubled if the face, seen out of its context, could be associated with past or present unacceptable, racially offensive caricatures.”

Perry has frequently been accused of cultural appropriation in the past, including for dressing like a geisha for an awards performance in 2013, and putting her hair in cornrows in the video for her single This Is How We Do. “I’ve made several mistakes,” she said in 2017. “I won’t ever understand, but I can educate myself and that’s what I’m trying to do along the way.”