Tag: Balmain

Redefining Protest

The recent PR fiascos in fashion took no break for Black History Month. In fact, some even felt that brands had decided to use the month as an opportunity to stir up some buzz by antagonizing the Black community. Balmain’s late January blackface incident, Gucci’s questionable sweater design and Burberry’s blatantly bizarre use of a noose on the runway caused understandable outrage on social media.

As with all social media conversations sparked by outrage, boycotting inevitably came up. Most people seem to agree that if brands can’t be culturally sensitive then they don’t deserve the Black dollar, yet it still seems boycotting is something that’s hard for us to commit to.

Just as everyone else, arguably even more, luxury brands are an aspiration for much of the Black community. Labels are a symbol of wealth and as an oppressed people, it feels good to look and feel upper-class occasionally; furthermore, for those who have obtained substantial wealth it feels good to finally flaunt. This is why there are countless Gucci and Prada references in hip-hop.

In the spirit of protest, though, Young MA says at the end of her “Thotiana” remix, “we ain’t buying Gucci, we ain’t buying Prada,” likely referencing the aforementioned Gucci sweater as well as Prada keychains that went viral in December 2018 for similar reasons.

However, when discussing protests we may have to broaden how we view the issue. I saw someone on Twitter note that Black people can’t protest luxury brands because we buy knockoffs instead of the real thing. While I think it’s important to note that everyone buys knockoffs, not just Black people, this got me thinking about the stigma behind fake luxury pieces, because although they’re common they’re still a source of shame.

What Dapper Dan proved over 30 years ago, though, is that it doesn’t matter if its authentic as long as it fly. His now iconic work was often made from knockoff materials because at the time high-end brands had no interest in this Black man’s shop in Harlem. He was a pest who received numerous cease and desist letters.

Fast forward to 2019 and we’re simultaneously looking for an effective means of protest while shaming people wearing fake labels. To me, the answer is evident. While I obviously see that value in authentic fashion and wouldn’t normally encourage counterfeits, there is no protest in doing what you should and normally would do.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

 

Balmain, Black Face and (Possibly Fake) Ignorance

I almost can’t believe that I’m writing this in the year of our Lord 2019, but then again stuff like this shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.

Balmain closed Couture Week in Paris on January 23 with Creative Director Oliver Rousteing’s first-ever couture collection. The show was supposed to be a big one for obvious reasons: it was Rousteing’s first couture collection, it was the week closer and it was Balmain’s first couture showing in 16 years. However, it ended up being the talk of the industry for something no one expected: the beauty look.

Rousteing’s Spring/Summer 2019 vision was one in complete black and white apparently as models were covered in either ghost white or pitch black makeup depending on their skin tone. The odd beauty look, which was done by Val Garland, was immediately called out by many on social media as black face (and white face).

Of course there were also those who argued that the makeup couldn’t have been rooted in racism because Rousteing is partially Black himself and there was white face involved as well. It should be pointed out, though, that Rousteing was raised by adopted white parents and doesn’t identify as a particular race, but as “human.” I will also add that I don’t believe the beauty look was rooted in malicious racism either. I believe it was rooted in tone-deafness, which is almost just as bad in this age of information.

A simple search into black face would reveal its ugly history in minstrel shows. White actors dressed in black face perpetuated stereotypes as a means of entertainment and justifying racism for years and when Black actors were finally given opportunities to work they were forced to don the same black face.

To present a beauty look even reminiscent of this is irresponsible and offensive, but it seems that such avoidable irresponsible and offensive occurrences keep happening in the fashion industry. H&M’s “coolest monkey in the jungle” hoodie and Prada’s monkey figurines last year are also examples of the kind of tone-deafness major brands keep finding themselves under fire for.

That fire, though, has brought these brands a lot of press and to some people all press is good press. There’s a running theory on social media that brands are only pretending to be ignorant in order to create controversy and garner attention. This creates a dilemma, do we ignore these instances and not reward brands with the influxes in views that go along with a scandal or continue to call them out?

To me, the answer will always be call them out. Unacceptable is unacceptable and we can’t accept it because we think we know the motive. Ignoring racist imagery would be encouraging it. If we ignore black face from Balmain it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll see it elsewhere soon.

The reality is that the closing show of Couture Week, or any fashion show, is just too big of a platform to display ignorance. Brands have a responsibility to understand the images they’re putting into the world. Doing the necessary research (and thinking) is not too much ask.

 

Be the zeitgeist.