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Gucci is the latest fashion brand to spark a blackface controversy

A black sweater with bright red lips has led to an uproar months after Prada figurines were similarly called out.

Gucci apologized and pulled a sweater likened to blackface.
Gucci has pulled a sweater that’s sparked blackface comparisons.

Gucci’s chief executive, François-Henri Pinault, has spoken out about the uproar his company found himself in last week when social media users complained that its balaclava sweater resembled blackface.

Pinault told the Wall Street Journal that Gucci’s parent company, Kering, needs to be more culturally sensitive to African Americans. While the luxury conglomerate has teams who review products for the Asian market, they don’t have similar groups in place to review how sensitive products are to African Americans.

“It’s true we don’t do that for the African-American community, and that’s a mistake,” Mr. Pinault said.

Last week, Gucci issued an apology for selling a sweater resembling blackface and pulled it from stores. The black turtleneck-style sweater features an opening with a pair of bright red lips that can be stretched around the wearer’s mouth. To many people on social media, the $890 sweater looked like the blackface makeup used historically by white performers to mock and make caricatures of African Americans.

”Gucci deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the wool balaclava jumper,” the company said in a statement. “We can confirm that the item has been immediately removed from our online store and all physical stores.”

The company, part of the French luxury conglomerate Kering, said that it was “fully committed to increasing diversity throughout our organization” and that it considers the controversy over the sweater to be a “powerful learning moment.”

The uproar over the sweater comes as fashion brands have recently found themselves ensnared in racial controversies and photos of Virginia politicians in blackface have led to calls for the lawmakers to resign.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring admitted Wednesday that, while attending the University of Virginia, he wore blackface to look like rapper Kurtis Blow at a party in 1980. Herring’s admission followed the discovery of a photo of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam allegedly in blackface in his 1984 medical school yearbook. Northam, a fellow Democrat, said that he had worn blackface to dress up as Michael Jackson.

But Virginia isn’t the only state roiled by blackface controversies. Last month, Michael Ertel, Florida’s new secretary of state, resigned after pictures of him in blackface mocking Hurricane Katrina victims surfaced. Blackface controversies have even hit the news media, with NBC’s Megyn Kelly resigning last fall after remarking she didn’t understand why blackface was offensive. She later apologized.

The blackface controversies and the racial tensions in the country generally have affected fashion brands as well. The fashion brand Prada pulled figurines in December after a passerby at its New York store said they reminded her of blackface. The figures, known as Pradamalia, have dark skin and exaggerated red lips, the hallmarks of historic images used to denigrate African Americans.

A group of Prada figurines have been compared to racist caricatures.
Prada pulled figurines that ignited a blackface controversy.
Chinyere Ezie

Fashion has also been rocked by other racial controversies. In December, a former Moschino worker accused the brand of racially profiling black customers by using the code name “Serena.” The month before Dolce & Gabbana ads were criticized for stereotyping Chinese people.

Be they fashion brands, politicians, or news anchors, no one in today’s highly charged political climate can expect to escape scrutiny for bigotry. But the fact that these incidents continue to happen shows just how deeply entrenched racism is in society.

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