The Misrepresentation of Culture in Fashion

By: Pilar Burgess

In the fashion industry, there is a responsibility for designers to push boundaries, while remaining politically correct and socially aware. In response to the launch of a Prada sweater and a Gucci keychain, both depicting Blackface, along with a Burberry sweatshirt tie, resembling a noose, the conversation on cultural ignorance and misuse of power has ignited within the industry. Blackface, the use of theatrical makeup to impersonate a black caricature, has been an act of racism for centuries. Furthermore, a noose had been used for the hanging of black individuals. With such a triggering history, the fashion world was shocked to see their appearance this past year on the runway. In the wake of these infamous events, we must consider what is deemed most important: profit or political correctness?

In the construction of any collection, designers must consider who their audience is. By doing so allows them to not only make a profit, but establish a level of trust between them and their customer. This trust builds a loyalty where customers can expect their wellbeing to be prioritized. In regard to the racial events that took place, the consideration of these designer’s audiences were disregarded. These designers’ collections were devoid of the basic human decency to recognize when a design depicts racist imagery or is culturally insensitive.

With their vast reach and well established platforms, Prada, Gucci and Burberry should consider the power they have as leaders and role models. Acting as positive examples is pertinent for these designers to help set the precedent for what is tolerated within the culture of the industry.  References to hateful acts or the implication of triggering imagery can deface more than just a single brand; It changes the way all designers choose to use their power for future collections.

Following these events, Prada, Gucci, and Burberry installed initiatives to increase their understanding of varying perspectives and ensure that diversity is present within their companies. By implementing these diversity councils, there are mixed feelings in regards to the purity of their intent. Some suggest these were implemented strictly for damage control. Others question how it is 2019 and these brands are just establishing inclusivity initiatives.

The level of ignorance shown by such highly esteemed fashion houses is disheartening. Fashion should be a safe space that expresses one’s individuality and highlights how differing cultures can coexist to celebrate the universal language of design and art.  With the increasing consideration for collaboration and varying perspectives, I am hopeful that fashion houses will use their power to grow public awareness and avoid any further design missteps that have already been documented.

Brian Zhao