The Instagram famous Italian brand renowned for its trainers, leather belts and bags is currently weathering a storm of controversy over its ‘balaclava’ jumper which, when the oversized turtleneck collar is pulled over the face, reveals the form of a ‘blackface’- a type of theatrical make up used to mock black people during the 20thcentury. Does this spell the end of the success of this once well-respected Italian fashion house?
Fashion houses, like Gucci, are known for pushing social and cultural boundaries which in turn places them at the cutting edge of high fashion. However, Italian fashion houses are recognised as some of the most racially insensitive in the world. This is evidenced by the Milan-based designer Prada’s ‘Pradamalia’ dolls which featured blackface imagery and had to be pulled from stores in December last year after they sparked international outrage. The increasing number of fashion houses using racist imagery has not gone unnoticed by black celebrities who are calling for their fans to boycott Gucci. Soulja Boy, TI and Spike Lee have all renounced the brand, which will create a devastating blow to Gucci, as they rely heavily on celebrity influencers to promote their brand. The outrage over this jumper has also come at a particularly insensitive time as Black History Month is currently being celebrated in the US.
What was Gucci’s response? The brand immediately pulled all of these ‘balaclava’ jumpers online and in store and has ‘deeply apologised’ for their behaviour. They have also endeavoured to increase staff training on culturally insensitive matters. But is this really enough? The fact that the concept of this jumper was created, approved by fashion directors and released in stores without hesitation shows that there is an overarching lack of awareness of culturally insensitive issues ingrained within Italian fashion houses. These brands will need to do a lot more than apologise and pull the items on display to stay relevant in a world taking greater responsibility for past actions. An apology simply is not enough anymore.