Just prior to the release of its Spring Fashion Issue, Vogue Brazil suddenly finds itself without a style editor, as Donata Meirelles found out the hard way that using black people as props in a nod to the glorious history of colonization isn’t so chic in 2019.
In fact, for Meirelles’ 50th birthday, she got to resign from her post at Vogue! Just what she wanted!
We’re all well aware of the history of the millions of African slaves stolen and transported to the United States, but it paled in comparison to the amount sent to Brazil, which amassed an estimated 10 times more slaves than the United States. The effects of that history have had an even more devastating and degrading impact upon those slaves’ descendants than in the U.S.; due to a largely color-based caste-like system, 21.4 percent of Brazil’s 196.6 million residents live below the poverty line—in addition to reports that plantation-style slavery still continues in rural Brazil.
But unburdened by this loaded, bloody and still oppressive context, Meirelles thought it would be super sexy to revisit the good ol’ days with a dinner party in Salvador de Bahia’s Palace of Acclamation, reportedly themed to evoke “Colonial Brazil.”And of course, no colonizer’s fantasy would be complete without black servants dressed in traditional Brazilian slave attire.
I can’t make this shit up, y’all.
Black Orpheus did not die for this mess.
There seems to be some minor debate over whether it was acceptable for the serving staff to be dressed this way, but what’s not is the clear juxtaposition and deliberate posing of the exclusively brown staff and Mereilles’ seemingly all-white guest list.
As reported by CNN, Rita Batista, a black female television presenter from the area, made plain the problem, posting an Instagram side-by-side of a 19th century mistress and her slaves followed by an almost identical pose struck by Mereilles and two female servers. Batista’s caption noted that “the slave herself was a luxury object to be shown publicly.”
For Mereilles’ part, she denied any intent at all, writing on Instagram that “it wasn’t a theme party,” and adding “but if it looked otherwise, I’m sorry,” according to CNN. She also claimed the costumes weren’t a nod to slavery, but traditional Bahian dress associated with the Afro-Brazilian religious tradition called Candomblé. However, it’s worth noting that Candomblé—like its sisters Santería, Vodou, and many other creolized religions—grew out of slavery, as enslaved priests and practitioners attempted to preserve their African traditions, merging them with the Catholicism of their masters.
Apparently unable to fight with facts, Mereilles announced her resignation from Vogue on Wednesday, with a statement in Portuguese that the New York Post reported read in part:
“At age 50, it’s time for action. I’ve heard a lot, I need to hear more.”
Yes, because you are definitely old enough to know better, Ma’am.
Vogue Brazil also issued a statement via Instagram, which read (in part):
“Vogue Brazil apologizes profusely for what happened and hopes that the discussions generated have served as a learning opportunity.”
Condé Nast International, which owns Vogue Brazil, also spoke out on the issue, saying it “is aware of the hurt and dismay caused by images of the private birthday party of Donata Meirelles, Style Director of Vogue Brazil.”
“Vogue Brazil has set up a working group of scholars and activists that will help the team to more deeply understand the history of slavery and the lasting pain it has left behind,” read an official statement obtained by the Post. “As a company, we have zero tolerance for racism and images evoking racism. Condé Nast International is a force for positive societal change and stands for diversity and inclusiveness.”
Please excuse us if we’re tired of being the fashion industry’s “learning opportunity.” Google remains free.