Gucci's 'Blackface' Sweater Fiasco Teaches Valuable Lesson in How Not to Design Apparel
This has been a long, rough week for Gucci, but here's the abridged version: Last week, the fashion brand unveiled a black balaclava-style sweater that featured exaggerated red lips around a mouth cut-out. Social media users immediately raked the company over the coals, comparing the new sweater to blackface:
The company tried to do damage control with a statement on Twitter:
Gucci deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the wool balaclava jumper.
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
— gucci (@gucci) February 7, 2019
Then, yesterday, Alessandro Michele, Gucci's creative director, issued a letter to the fashion house's employees. According to Hypebeast, Michele said in the letter he takes "full accountability" for the sweater, and that its aim was to pay tribute to Leigh Bowery and his camouflage art.
"I really shelter the suffer of all I have offended," the letter continued. "And I am heartfully sorry for this hurt. I hope I can rely on the understanding of those who know me and can acknowledge the constant tension towards the celebration of diversity that has always shaped my work. This is the only celebration I’m willing to stand for."
Katy Perry learned a similar lesson this week when her latest shoe launch was criticized for two designs that resembled blackface.
Katy Perry 'Blackface' Shoe to Be Pulled from Shelves
Ok, can we just make this a rule that ANY product, service or person that is NOT Black will NOT create, promote or apply any combination of BLACK + FACE
— Kim Crayton ~ Antiracist Economist ~ She/Her ✊🏾💛 (@KimCrayton1) February 11, 2019
The shoes were pulled from the shelves and Perry released a statement to Entertainment Tonight that described the shoes' inspiration as a "nod to modern art and surrealism."
“I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface," she added. "Our intention was never to inflict any pain.”
There is, of course, something to learn from Gucci's and Perry's design missteps. Yes, the logo and the accompanying branding/marketing is extremely important for promotional apparel lines, but the apparel, itself, should also be a consideration. Text is not the only thing that can be offensive or insensitive, so always vet apparel designs before they reach the public.