Luxury fashion brand Prada has announced the launch of a diversity council co-chaired by filmmaker Ava DuVernay, an outspoken activist whose work explores systemic racism in the U.S. The Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council will serve to “elevate voices of color within the company and the fashion industry at-large,” according to a press release, and will oversee the company’s investment “in diverse talent development and [expanding] opportunities for young students of color in the fashion industry.”
The creation of the council comes in the wake of backlash endured by the company over a $550 keychain that critics said looked shockingly like a racist caricature. Prada defended the keychains as “imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world,” but apologized and agreed to remove the products from circulation. Luxury retailer Gucci has also faced controversy in recent days over a balaclava turtleneck that made wearers look like they had put on blackface.
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Woke up on the morning of our fourth birthday to some news about our namesake @prada . The “Pradamalia” collection, produced in collaboration with @2x4inc , features fantasy “lab-created” animals. According to a press release about the collab, the creatures mix up the codes of the house into their features. Many are comparing "Otto", a resulting mutation of one of Prada's oldest mascots, the monkey, to Little Sambo, a children's book character from 1899, who exemplified the pickaninny style of blackface caricature, though other examples from as early as 1769 can be found. The exaggerated stereotypes propagated racism freely back then, but it's apparent that the legacy of the harmful imagery still affects how we contextualize racism today. This is surprising from Prada, who's known (at least recently) for the inclusivity of their casting, propelling then unknown models like Anok Yai and Jourdan Dunn into near supermodel status…not to mention casting Naomi Campbell in that 1994 campaign at a time when it was generally deemed "risky" to cast people of color in international luxury campaigns. Recently, they mounted "The Black Image Corporation", an exhibition highlighting the importance and legacy of black creators in American publishing and photography, in both Milan and Miami. Representation is important, but understanding how to navigate the nuances of how the world perceives racism is even more so. One thing is pretty clear though…given recent scandals, luxury brands operating on a massive global scale need more systems in place to avoid controversies like this. A suggestion for now: more diversity on a corporate level for positions that actually hold power in decision making and brand imaging. Prada issued a swift apology on twitter and are in the process of removing the products from display and sale, but no mention on Instagram yet. Dieters, chime in with your thoughts! • Source: Chinyere Ezie via Twitter (@ lawyergrrl) • #prada #blackface #littlesambo #retailproblems #retaildisplay #soho #nyc #dietprada
Black rights activists have hailed the decision to hire DuVernay and her fellow co-chair, Theaster Gates, a professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University Chicago famous for his work as an activist-artist. Activists have long said that fewer racist gaffes would occur if the fashion world was more inclusive of people of color. As of August, the Council of Fashion Designers of America had only 15 black designers on a membership roster of more than 500 people.
Watch Ava Duvernay discuss the ‘radical act’ of filmmaking in the male-dominated movie business, at the 2015 Women in the World New York Summit:
Read the full story at Elle.