It’s New York Fashion Week, and the hottest trend isn’t coming down a runway, but almost daily on our newsfeeds. Blame Megyn Kelly, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (or his Atty. General Mark Herring) or the growing number of designer labels accused of cultural insensitivity or flagrant disregard, but we’ve currently got more blackface on our minds than a damned minstrel show.
To be clear: blackface is a real thing that needs to die in a fire—despite any seemingly brilliant Halloween costume ideas to the contrary. But the centuries-old stereotype is also swiftly becoming an international obsession, in ways both necessary and extreme. Because like most obsessions, once you identify one, you’ll see it everywhere.
The latest to come under fire? Singer and ugly shoe aficionado Katy Perry, who was forced to pull two styles from her shoe collection on Monday amid accusations of—you guessed it—blackface.
Wow. That’s... really something.
Given our ongoing coverage of this issue, we may surprise some of our readers with our response—and please forgive us if our outrage seems to have been misplaced here—because sometimes, you just have to laugh. But despite the red lips and black background (offset by blue eyes, though black folks can have those too), when we look at these shoes, our first thought isn’t blackface.
It’s bad taste.
Just when we thought it impossible to come across something uglier than Gucci’s boycott-generating balaclava sweater in the space of a single week, Katy said, “hold my beer.” And while we can easily see how in the context of this current cultural moment, the shoes seem to scream “BLACKFAAAAAAAAAACE!!!” we’re too busy screaming at the fact that footwear this hideous exists at all, in any color.
But if we’re going to talk context, what would you expect from the label that also produced these holiday-ready gems?
Or these (slightly better) Valentine’s Day-themed kicks? (Meanwhile, who’s buying any of these? Reveal yourselves, damn it!)
Oh wait, we get it: Those controversial shoes were from Katy’s Black History Month collection! How could we miss it? They weren’t an insult; they were a timely tribute, y’all...
Nope. Still an insult. To our eyes.
But speaking of insults, Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri is due to meet with designer Dapper Dan and several others in Harlem, N.Y., this week to discuss the aforementioned offensive sweater (automatic winner of ugly sweater contests in perpetuity, so y’all can stop now). As reported by Fashionista, Bizzarri also addressed the issue with a lengthy internal memo circulated throughout the luxury label, which was obtained and published by the site on Monday night.
By now, you will all know of the issue we are currently facing due to the balaclava jumper.
This is a situation that has impacted the Gucci community, myself and [creative director and designer Alessandro Michele] in a very personal way.
We made a mistake. A big one. Because of cultural ignorance, but ignorance is not an excuse. And we accept responsibility for this mistake. Yet there is no way of thinking nor believing that this could have ever been intentional.
The way we have been portrayed as a company is not reflecting who we are and what we stand for. The current perception is putting at risk all the values we believe in and have been working on from the beginning of our journey. Self-expression, diversity, community building and inclusivity are in the DNA of the brand reflected in the many initiatives we have launched in the last several years, such as our membership of Parks and our signature of the “UN LGBT Business Conduct Standards,” our gender equality campaign Chime for Change, our 15-year partnership with UNICEF and our support for refugees through Artolution, to name a few.
We have created a shared corporate culture that makes us unique. From the very start in 2015, all that we have stood for and all that we have achieved on a daily basis has been driven by these values and has been defining this chapter for our brand. Above all, respect for others, celebrating diversity through inclusivity and with creativity at the heart of everything we do.
This process takes time, as any behavioral change does, evolving every day and mistakes may happen along the way.
We thought we were standing in a better position, and we need to recognize that we are not.
We have to move even quicker. We are a learning organization, and I am now working on a set of immediate, concrete actions — from building a global cultural awareness program to a company-wide system that will allow diversity to bloom everywhere, to a full program of scholarships in major cities, such as New York, Nairobi, Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul which will facilitate an increase of different communities within the creative office — that I will announce in detail this week. I will also be discussing these important initiatives with leaders from different communities in order to develop a constructive and appropriate framework. I don’t want to be divided, I want to invite everyone to join us.
I have exchanged at length with Alessandro while he is preparing the upcoming fashion show and he is writing us a letter expressing his feelings, which we will read shortly.
People are at the center of everything we do. This situation is not going to change our values, what defines us, what we stand for and how we act towards one another and to the communities we serve. We will take on this challenge as a mandate to develop a stronger organization. This is a commitment we all share.
As noted in our prior coverage of this issue, it is our belief that this controversy and others like it could be avoided by more inclusion and diversity of talent throughout these organizations. Bizzarri’s memo indicates that is the direction in which he plans to take Gucci, in an effort to make amends for this issue and avoid similar incidents in the future.
Is there a future for Gucci among the luxury lovers of the black community? We will never not applaud critical thinking, consideration and long overdue cultural shifts, but will Gucci’s comeuppance come too late for cancel culture?
That remains to be seen. But in the meantime, we hope everyone is finally ready to get on the right side of history.