Fashion is not often a model of political correctness. Occasionally, it has to tread carefully when it comes to cultural appropriation and still fail, and the collections that are undoubtedly out of touch to someone who is not within its bubble are missed by those in the know. While in the past, these may be left unnoticed, the current technological advances afford us to quickly point out insensitive choices and spread the news in record speeds far and wide. You need not look further in history for examples: just recently, one half of Dolce & Gabbana’s racist comments on China have cost the fashion house its multi-million Shanghai show and repute among consumers, and Dior’s campaign supposedly honoring Mexican female equestrians with Jennifer Lawrence caused uproar in the online community. Both instances were brought to people’s attentions through social media, particularly Instagram. This time around, Prada has caught itself in a controversy over its new trinkets that seem to imitate blackface.
New Yorker Chinyere Ezie, who works as a staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, shared on her Facebook account a disturbing encounter after what was supposedly a solemn visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. While walking, the display on Prada’s Soho store caught her eye, and she was shocked at the blatant display of blackface on its windows. She entered the boutique to ask the staff about the display, but unfortunately, the offense does not stop there as the store is filled with more figures that take the appearance of monkeys but with dark skin and exaggerated lips, two unmistakable features of the Sambo blackface. The store keepers were all aware of what they had on the shop, and informed Ezie of an employee that complained of the offensive figures but no longer works for Prada.
“History cannot continue to repeat itself. Black America deserves better. And we demand better.” Ezie concluded her post. She encouraged its reposting, including #StopBlackface, #BoycottPrada, and #EndRacismNow as hashtags. On her Twitter, Ezie said that people of color should occupy leadership positions to increase awareness and avoid instances like what has happened. Such gaffes would less likely escape the attention of an ethnically diverse workplace.
— Chinyere Ezie (@lawyergrrl) December 13, 2018
— PurpleGirl_CEO (@purplegirl_ceo) December 14, 2018
Hey @Prada these photos were brought to my attention as images of blackface are on display in your Soho store in NYC. Have you all lost your minds? Are you all that ignorant of the blatant racist display in your store right now?! See examples side by side! #boycottprada pic.twitter.com/IedslVZRbm
— Calandra Hackney (@landybugnyc) December 14, 2018
— Monica Edwards (@monicaredwards) December 14, 2018
The offending products
Thanks to the Internet, Prada immediately caught on and pulled out the products in question, which form part of its new collection, the “Pradamalia”. The offender was the Otto-Toto keychain, which has a retail price of $500. It is easy to see its likeness to the blackface, especially because of the skin color and the lips.
Prada issued an apology that it shared through its Twitter account, saying that the Pradamalia was not based on blackface, and that offending potential consumers with its products was not the fashion house’s intent. As of this writing, the accessories have been taken out of its brick and mortar stores as well as its online store.
The Pradamalia, released just in time before the holidays, offers new clothing, accessories and jewelry that feature seven creatures described by the Italian fashion house as part biological and part technological. Named Disco, Spot, Socks, Scuba, Fiddle, Otto and Toto, each one has its own set of quirks and powers. The creatures all possess certain Prada codes familiar to anyone who has been following the brand long enough. The rest of the selection, save for the offensive pieces, are available over the Prada website.
Image credits: Chinyere Ezie, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Mountains of Travel Photos