At this point I'm convinced these so-called luxury brands are intentionally coming out with racist concept lines (that they really didn't plan on releasing) just to get the free press that comes with the controversy.
It has to be a calculated tactic to further victimize people of color (who make up a small percent of their sales) knowing they will not lose one dollar (and will probably gain) from their traditional consumer base (i.e. very rich white Americans and Europeans). And the tactic is working.
In February – the month traditionally dedicated to Black history – Black accomplishments and a celebration of Blackness pretty much dominates media coverage of anything not considered “hard news” or “breaking news.” And if you don’t have anything constructive to offer to the conversation of Black achievement … well … wait until March to try and get coverage. And in March if you don’t have anything celebrating the excellence and achievement of women, well …
The people of Gucci, Burberry and Esquire Magazine are not dummies. They certainly aren’t living under any rocks. Some will chalk up these latest aggressions against Black people (and people of color in general) as conceptual faux pas, but I contend these acts are both sinister and intentional.
OK, for those who don’t live on social media, allow me to step back and explain the string of controversies.
Let’s start with Gucci.
On Feb. 7 social media was abuzz with outrage when a photo of a Gucci ad featured a white model in a black turtleneck sweater pulled over the model’s face. In the mouth region there was an opening surrounded by large red lips. Basically, it was a caricature of Blackness, or blackface without the makeup. Many of us (myself included) who had never owned a stitch of Gucci pledged to never support the brand (well, except for Floyd Mayweather). Anyway, Gucci apologized and promised it is, “committed to diversity.”
But a funny thing happened following the uproar. Gucci made money. A lot of money.
On Feb. 7 Kering, the parent company of the Gucci brand, that also owns Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and others, saw its stock price rise from $518 to a Feb. 19 closing price of $537.24.
I’m sure the people in marketing over at Burberry took note and brainstormed a racist, yet conceivably plausible design – a hoodie with the drawstring as a noose. The design came to light on Feb. 17 when model Liz Kennedy posted her objections to the hoodie. We’ll have to see how the company’s stock fairs, but if one day of trading is an indication the stock opened the day at $25.56 per share and closed at $26.11. There was no trading Monday for President’s Day. Keep in mind, most investors own multiple shares of a company and institutional investors own thousands upon thousands of shares. For one share $.55 is pennies (literally) but for an investor with $10,000 shares that a one-day gain of $5,500. Not a bad day for stock in a company that just advertised the “noose hoodie.”
While I applaud Kennedy for speaking out, it should be noted that her primary objection to the design was over concerns of suicide, not lynching. And absolutely, we must do anything we can to prevent suicide as most of us have been impacted by a loved one taking his or her own life. According to a study published Alex Crosby of the Centers for Disease Control and Sherry Davis Molock of George Washington University, “suicide was the third-leading cause of death among African-American people aged 15 to 19 years, fourth among those aged 20 to 29 years, and eighth among those aged 30 to 39.” But let’s be open and upfront. When we see a noose, we see the hands of racists whites tying the knot.
“Suicide is not fashion. It is not glamorous nor edgy,” wrote Kennedy on her Instagram page. “Riccardo Tisci (chief creative officer of Burberry) and everyone at Burberry it is beyond me how you could let a look resembling a noose hanging from a neck out on the runway. How could anyone overlook this and think it would be okay to do this especially in a line dedicated to young girls and youth. The impressionable youth. Not to mention the rising suicide rates world wide (sic). Let’s not forget about the horrifying history of lynching either.”
All lynching got was an honorable mention.
As for Esquire, well the brain-trust over there decided to hit two birds with one stone (and that took uncanny accuracy). Esquire decided to use Black History Month to announce its cover story for March – Women’s History Month – with this little ditty, “An American Boy: What it’s like to grow up white, middle class and male in the era of social media, school shootings, toxic masculinity and a divided country.” I mean how else does a magazine that has an almost exclusive white male readership get traction in February and March?
So what’s the solution?
Let’s understand that most of these designers have exploited Black culture from the beginning to create their now iconic brands. If we’re not wearing Gucci (and Gucci-like knockoffs), if we’re not glorifying Gucci, Burberry, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and others in our music, we’re lessening their impact, thus affecting their bottom line. And keep in mind there are plenty of Black-owned labels from which to choose. In Minneapolis there’s Black Excellence (www.shopblackexcellence.com), Up Your Image, and more. Additionally, outside of the area there’s Stella Jean (www.StellaJean.it), LaQuan Smith (www.LaQuanSmith.com), Armando Cabral (www.laquansmith.com) and a host of others. Let’s give them a platform to shine. Brothers and sisters in hip-hop, let’s hear their names bantered about in lyrical wordplay.
Keep Gucci. Keep Burberry. Keep Esquire. I’ll take Black Excellence. I’ll take Armando Cabral. I’ll take Insight News.