Is This Fashion Racist or Just Controversial?

As a fashion student, I've been groomed to admire the work of the European greats. The simplicity of Chanel! The architecture of Balenciaga! But as of late, the antics of the luxury brands haven’t been awe-inspiring.
Publish date:
October 2, 2012
dolce & gabbana, racist fashion, slave earrings

Yes, those are slave heads dangling from some model’s ears as she slinks down the Dolce and Gabbana runway. What in Aunt Jemima hell? What's really a shame (or more shameful) is that Dolce's actual collection was filled with some delicious shapes and rich colors.

We all know fashion isn't all kumbaya when it comes to race here in the United States. Sure, black models might not get callbacks for runways shows, but at least the 7th Avenue crew isn’t trying to sell you T-shirts with screen-printed images of Steppin’ Fetchit.

Overseas though? That’s a whole different story.

As a fashion student, I've been groomed to admire the work of the European greats. The simplicity of Chanel! The architecture of Balenciaga! But as of late, the antics of the luxury brands haven’t been awe-inspiring as much as they’ve been gag inducing. Check the five incidents below.


1. Dior’s African “Fertility Goddess” Shoe, Spring 2009

I can’t tell if they’re actually fertility goddesses or tiny replicas of Sara Baartman, but I do know that John Galliano did himself no favors by accessorizing with these carved statue shoes. Surprisingly, some fashion-lovers thought the shoes were the saving grace of the runway show. Perhaps if you see the shoes as an appreciation of tribal art and NOT an appropriation of an offensive image. But to me the shoes look uncomfortably like European models stepping on the necks of African women. Sidebar: This African-bust-appropriating hairpiece isn’t helping.

2. Jackie Magazine Calls Rihanna [Something I Don’t Want to Repeat Here], December 2011

In an effort to educate their readers on authentic street style, the editor of the Dutch magazine Jackie turned to Rihanna for inspiration, paying her the rare compliment of calling her “The Ultimate Niggabitch.” Double take. The piece went on to praise Rih Rih for her “ghetto ass” and “golden throat” (as translated by Parlour Magazine). That whipped up enough Internet rage to prompt in a non-apology apology from the magazine’s editor, who later left her position.

3. Vogue Italia Hails "Slave Earrings" As The Next Hot Trend, August 2011

I don’t mind a little nostalgia with my fashion. Pinup-style swimsuits from the 1950s and ‘90s neon are right up my sartorial alley. Still, I’ve never looked in my closet in the morning and thought, “Hmmm, how can I do Middle Passage Chic?” This tidbit was lost on the good people at Vogue Italia, who declared “Slave earrings” the next big thing, heralding the latest interpretation of the classic hoop shape as “pure freedom.” Uh, no.

They must have gotten a lot of e-mails about that one, because the article was quickly taken down, and the slideshow was revised to highlight “ethnic earrings.” An improvement, I suppose, but not really. And not fast enough, as my blogger pal Luvvie snagged a screenshot of original feature anyway.

4. Adidas Shackle Sneakers, June 2012

Did I say American fashion is tactful when it comes to race? I must have fallen and bumped my head, because I almost forgot about these glorious little puppies by designer Jeremy Scott and Adidas. Yes, those are shackles. On sneakers.

Scott is actually a fave among the urban/cool kids/hip-hop set because of his edgy street aesthetic and use of color. But he truly stepped in it (bad pun intended) with this collaboration with Adidas. After Adidas posted a picture of the shoes on Facebook (genius!), the controversy swirled, and the company soon pulled the shoe, issuing an apology and saying the sneaks were totally about Jeremy Scott’s “outrageous and unique take on fashion” and had “nothing to do with slavery.”

Adidas, you need more black people. How did those things even make into production in the first place?

5. Urban Outfitters and... everything

This is a surprise to no one. We all get it. Urban Outfitters is edgy. That said, some of their antics cross the line into just plain racist. Like labeling one of their T-shirt colors as “Obama/Black.” Or printing another shirt featuring a symbol that looked eerily similar to "the yellow star" used to identify Jewish people during the Holocaust. Or offering a version of Monopoly called “Ghettopoly.”

The list goes on. Give ‘em a month or two, they’ll probably do something offensive again really soon. Because they’re edgy, remember? (I also realize that I’ve totally negated my earlier argument that U.S. fashion is polite when it comes to race and clothes. Le sigh.)

All this is enough to make a baby fashion designer barf. But then again it also reminds me of why I'm doing this in the first place. Seen any racist fashion lately? I can always use more racist faux pas to fuel my next all-nighter in the workroom.

You can follow Veronica's racist fashion musings on Twitter as @veronicamarche.