Gucci released a new women's sweater this week that immediately sparked backlash. The Italian label's "wool balaclava jumper" is a black turtleneck sweater that features a mouth cutout (like an actual balaclava) when pulled up over the chin. The issue, though, is what surrounds that cutout: a red panel that looks like a pair of exaggerated lips and resembles offensive blackface caricatures.
Not surprisingly, users on social media were shocked and incensed. "So @gucci puts out a sweater that looks like blackface......On Black History Month....And then issues an apology because they didn't know that blackface images are racist," Tariq Nasheed wrote on Twitter.
Another Twitter user, @fuckrashida, offered a sardonic "Happy Black History Month y’all."
The backlash comes at a time when blackface controversies are in the national news thanks to Virginia's governor and attorney general. Governor Ralph Northam is under fire for a racist photo in his medical school yearbook featuring blackface (and someone wearing a KKK hood, to boot). And more recently Attorney General Mark Herring has confessed to wearing blackface when he dressed up as rapper Kurtis Blow for Halloween in 1980.
It also comes as another brand, Adidas, drew fire for its Black History month misstep: an all-white version of the ongoing Ultra Boost Uncaged sneaker that, aside from the obvious color issues, suggested that the sportswear brand was completely unaware of how the meaning of "uncaged" might shift to something terrible within the context of black American history.
Gucci released a statement saying that the label "deeply apologizes for the offense caused by wool balaclava jumper" and confirming the $890 knit top has been pulled from stores. "We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected, and at the forefront of every decision we make," the statement continues.
The Tweets tell it all.
So @gucci puts out a sweater that looks like blackface......— Tariq Nasheed 🇺🇸 (@tariqnasheed) February 7, 2019
On Black History Month....
And then issues an apology because they didn't know that blackface images are racist.
Balaclava knit top by Gucci. Happy Black History Month y’all. pic.twitter.com/HA7sz7xtOQ— Rashida (@fuckrashida) February 6, 2019
Esquire reached out to the label for additional comment, but a spokesperson for the brand declined to offer anything further. Here's Gucci's full statement:
Gucci deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the wool balaclava jumper.— gucci (@gucci) February 7, 2019
We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected, and at the forefront of every decision we make.
Full statement below. pic.twitter.com/P2iXL9uOhs
While the exact mechanics that led to this unfortunate incident are unclear, it highlights an ongoing issue of representation and racial awareness within the fashion industry. That Prada was just recently in a similar situation and issued its own statement apologizing for selling accessories that resembled blackface only serves to illustrate the pervasiveness of the problem.
From the runway to the boardroom, one glaringly obvious solution is creating greater diversity, providing more platforms for people of color, and listening to what those people have to say. As one Twitter user, Vanessa Veasley, responded, "If you hire more Black people and cultivate an environment where people on all levels of the company feel comfortable to speak up incidents like this will be avoided."
If you hire more Black people and cultivate an environment where people on all levels of the company feel comfortable to speak up incidents like this will be avoided.— The GLOWBOSS (@VanessaVeasley) February 7, 2019
From: Esquire US