Gucci boss describes the ‘blackface sweater’ incident as a learning experience

Gucci boss Marco Bizzarri said on Wednesday that he has recognized that the label’s ‘blackface sweater’ incident was a mistake. The Italian fashion brand was forced to pull the $900 balaclava turtleneck with cartoonish red lips in February after it caused a public outcry that spiralled out of control on social media.




Supermodel Naomi Campbell was one of many who were taken by surprise by the controversy but on Wednesday she publicly backed Gucci after the brand said it had learnt a lesson from its unfortunate faux pas.

Gucci was sucked into the public relations disaster after releasing product photos of the turtleneck, which many on social media associated with blackface, when white people imitate physical attributes of black people with costume or makeup, a masquerade that is widely perceived as an expression of racism.

“It was a mistake…. And for me it has been a great learning experience,” Bizzarri said on Wednesday at the Conde Nast luxury conference in Cape Town, South Africa. “It was something that we did not expect. Many people in the company did not see that it could be interpreted as blackface.”

Bizzarri said it took him several days to understand what the fuss was all about. “In a few hours, it was everywhere on social media and already in two newspapers and we were being asked why Gucci was not reacting to it.”



A screenshot of the offending sweater


Gucci eventually apologized and said the item had been removed from all of its stores and online.

“Diversity is part of what we do,” Bizzarri added. “For Alessandro (Michele, Gucci’s designer), it is part of his life.”

 “It was a mistake and I did not like the extreme of where it went and what people were doing with the item,” Campbell told the Conde Nast luxury conference. She had just flown into Cape Town from New York in a trip paid for by Conde Nast in what looked like a well-orchestrated PR move to help Gucci finally put the issue to bed. Conde Nast stressed that Ms Campbell was a guest of Suzy Menkes who led the conference and not of Gucci and was invited to champion African talent. 

Campbell said she was pleased to hear that the controversy had stirred Gucci into stepping up initiatives to back African fashion and promote inclusivity. The brand has recently announced a sponsorship programme for young African designers in four African cities: Cape Town, Nairobi in Kenya; Lagos in Nigeria and Accra in Ghana.

Gucci is one of many fashion brands that are now doing their best to publicly promote diversity and inclusivity after putting out items or ad campaigns that were perceived as culturally insensitive. Prada was sucked into a similar PR disaster last year after selling a monkey-like trinket. Film-maker director Spike Lee called for a boycott afterwards of both Prada and Gucci in reaction. Dolce & Gabbana also earnt its fair share of criticism for videos portraying Chinese women as being unable to eat Italian food with chopsticks. The latter incident has dug a significant hole in the Italian brand’s revenues as many Chinese retailers stopped stocking the brand in reaction to the public outrage.
 
 

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