On Thursday, Michel Gaubert, fashion’s preeminent DJ who has worked to create the sound of brands like Chanel and Valentino, posted a video to his Instagram page of a dinner party held in Paris at a friend’s house that evening. Among the guests were artist Marie Beltrami, though guests — eight total — were concealed by paper masks, those meant to indicate typically Asian features like slanted eyes. Someone in the video says, “Wuhan girls, wahoo!”
Within minutes, Gaubert said he deleted the post, but by then, enough people among his 400,000 Instagram followers had noticed. The video made its way to Diet Prada’s Instagram, as well as Bryan Yambao’s and Susanna Lau’s. Lau quickly criticised the video, calling it “patently racist.” In response, Gaubert issued an apology on Instagram.
”I want to reiterate my apologies to anyone who was hurt about my inconsiderate and stupid post,” he wrote.
”I am extremely sorry for this lack of dignity, especially in the times we are going through now. Asian hate is not acceptable and I condemn it like any other hate. I have always been embracing every culture in whatever I do and I am devastated when I see what is going on in the world today. Yet I failed when I thought I could not.”
Gaubert told BoF that the masks were brought to the dinner by a stylist who saved them from a Harper’s Bazaar shoot in China five or six years ago, meant to indicate “paper moons” that models were meant to hold up to their faces. “I really upset people I love, I am working for and I respect,” Gaubert said. “That really brought me down. I wanted to write an apology right away, which was maybe a bit clumsy. When you do something like that, I took the night I didn’t sleep last night thinking what I could say for my apology today. I felt really concerned about the people I care for.”
Amidst a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes punctuated by the murder of eight people at an Atlanta spa on March 16 — six of whom were women of Asian descent — many Asian-American fashion professionals are beginning to speak out about their struggles with racism in an industry that, on the surface, has embraced them.
Meanwhile, imagery that centres stereotypes and confounds and misrepresents Asian cultures have recurringly appeared in fashion editorials for years. Dolce & Gabbana’s history of offending Chinese consumers is long documented, while publications like Vogue have featured models like Karlie Kloss appearing as a geisha on its cover as recently as 2017.
“The real frightening thing is the utter lack of realisation,” Lau wrote in a subsequent post addressing the Gaubert incident on her Instagram. “They only deleted the posts when their racism was highlighted to them — by an Asian person I might add. The absence of awareness, the sheer misguided thinking: We’re talking about the need to reshape minds.”