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“Think Global, Act Local”

June 19, 2019

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The headline for this blog is a timely piece of advice for the fashion world from St. Laurent CEO Francesca Bellettini when questioned about global expansion and the best way to handle it. The first time I used this quote was for an ADEA blog titled “Dolce and Gabbana Say, “We’re Sorry.” CLICK HERE if you’re interested in reading about their debacle in China.

There is also a brief mention of Gucci’s “blackface turtleneck” that went viral on Instagram, prompting prominent African-American celebrities, including 50 Cent and Spike Lee, to boycott the brand. 

IS THE FASHION WORLD TONE-DEAF?

Now, it is weeks later and the New York Post has published another piece written by Raquel Laneri that sports an eye-catching subhead, “Fashion Brands Keep Screwing Up and Customers Are Wondering Why.” That’s an excellent observation and an issue I’ve been thinking about for some time. Or, to put it more bluntly: What is wrong with these companies? Are they so arrogant that they believe they can insult the well-heeled customers who shell out thousands of dollars to buy the goods they produce?”

From the left: a slip-on shoe evoking blackface from Katy Perry’s line, Prada monkey accessories and a Burberry hoodie with a rope (or noose) Note: Prada has enlisted black filmmaker Ava DuVernay and artist Theaster Gates to head a diversity council for the label.

Photo: Courtesy of the New York Post, 3/4/19

BURBERRY’S REACTION SURPRISED ME

Two weeks after the Gucci uproar, Burberry made headlines when it sent a hoodie with a noose around the neck down the runway that conjured up negative images of suicide and lynching. Full disclosure: I own a $700 Burberry jacket that I think is great. That said I certainly didn’t like their reaction to this faux pas. Laneri writes, “Burberry allegedly brushed it off with, “It’s fashion.” Not quite: they better smarten up fast.

THEN PRADA PEDDLED MONKEY ACCESSORIES

What were they thinking? These items looked like golliwogs – that are described by the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia as “the least known of the major anti-black caricatures in the United States. Golliwogs are grotesque creatures with very dark, often jet black skin, large white-rimmed eyes, red or white clown lips and wild, frizzy hair. The image is popular in England and other European countries and is found on a variety of items, e.g., postcards, jam jars, paperweights, brooches, wallets, perfume bottles, wooden puzzles, sheet music, wallpaper, pottery, jewelry, greeting cards, clocks and dolls. This abhorrent custom is defined by the remark, “For the last 40 years Europeans have debated whether or not this is a racist symbol.” I have a suggestion: We’re in a digital revolution. Stop talking and wake up!

GUCCI AND PRADA HAVE APOLOGIZED

Prada and Gucci have implemented diversity councils and education programs to prevent further missteps – and Burberry plans to as well. But why does this keep happening? I think this answer given by marketing exec Aliza Licht is excellent.

She says, “Many of these design teams are staffed by yes-men who won’t challenge a designer if he or she comes up with something questionable. A lot of times, especially in fashion, there is a reluctance to push back. Everyone around the creative director says, ‘Fabulous, I love it.’ In the case of Gucci and Prada the offending products had gone through a long chain of command. Even so, they landed in stores without anyone waving a red flag.”

Harlem designer and Gucci collaborator, Dapper Dan (inset) called the brand’s $890 sweater “outrageously wrong.” To their credit, Gucci met with Dapper Dan in Harlem within a week of the sweater nabbing headlines.

Some fashion critics don’t buy this explanation. They wonder if such controversial products are deliberate – to drive publicity and clicks – or even to offend. In the real world this is called “a cheap shot.”

My conclusion – I really don’t have one except to say: If this keeps up and these fashion companies find that American sales are dropping they’ll wise up so fast you won’t believe it.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick


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