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Prada Mounts Diversity Council as Brands Face Blackface Backlash

African-American artists Theaster Gates and Ava DuVernay will chair a group created to 'elevate voices of colour' and advise on diversity issues.
The Prada monkey figurines that caused backlash in December 2018 | Source: Chinyere Ezie on Facebook
By
  • Bloomberg

MILAN, Italy — Prada is mounting an advisory group on diversity as more European fashion brands come under fire from consumers for products and marketing seen as racially insensitive.

Two African-American artists — sculptor Theaster Gates and filmmaker Ava DuVernay — will chair a group whose role will be to “elevate voices of colour” and “advise the company as it invests in diverse talent development,” Milan-based Prada said in a statement.

European labels have sought to position themselves as boosters of diversity and racial awareness in recent years, with Prada hosting film director Spike Lee's "The Black Image Corporation" exhibition in Milan this fall, while Gucci released an ad campaign with all-black models celebrating the late 1960s dance scene.

That hasn't stopped them from making gaffes many consumers saw as betraying a lack of actual diversity in their ranks. Prada displayed a monkey figurine that was called out for its resemblance to blackface in December, while Gucci made the same wrong turn last week with a black turtleneck decorated with large red lips.

“Hire some black people,” became a frequent refrain on social media as users wondered why no one in the companies noticed certain products’ resemblance to blackface imagery. Lee threatened to boycott both brands in Instagram posts.

In addition to advising Prada on training staff, the council will create internship and apprenticeship programs in diverse communities in a bid to "help ensure that the fashion world is reflective of the world in which we live," designer and co-chief executive Miuccia Prada said in the statement.

Other European labels have failed to notice the incendiary potential of designs and marketing. H&M shuttered stores in South Africa amid backlash to an ad showing a black child wearing a hoodie that said “coolest monkey in the jungle.” Dolce & Gabbana enraged Chinese consumers with a video showing a Chinese model struggling to eat spaghetti with chopsticks. The brand canceled its Shanghai runway show and saw its wares pulled from Chinese e-commerce sites.

Gucci promised to intensify efforts to increase diversity and racial sensitivity after releasing the turtleneck sweater seen as resembling blackface. “Diversity is key to our collective intelligence,” Francois-Henri Pinault — the chairman of Gucci parent Kering — said Tuesday in a meeting with journalists. Kering still counts no non-white head designers or chief executives from a dozen luxury brands, excepting Dennis Chan, founder of the Hong Kong-based jeweller Qeelin.

By Robert Williams; editors: Eric Pfanner, John Lauerman and Frank Connelly.

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