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Luxury fashion brands called out for being racist, challenged to be more inclusive

As many fashion houses posted black squares on Instagram, netizens challenged them to do more than that — to make runways, magazine covers, boardrooms and creative studios living showcases of diversity.

By: Lifestyle Desk | New Delhi | Published: June 23, 2020 2:10:27 pm
black lives matter, fashion, racism People demonstrate at a “Black Lives Matter” rally to mark the death of George Floyd in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, 1 June 2020. (Representational image, courtesy: Alexandra Wey/Keystone via AP)

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, luxury fashion brands have been called out for ‘hypocrisy’ in showing solidarity with the movement while perpetuating racism in the industry.

A while ago, the first black model for Vogue cover Beverly Johnson opened up on racism in the fashion industry. Recently, transgender model and actor Munroe Bergdorf reacted to L’Oreal’s #BlackoutTuesday posts, accusing the brand for having fired her about three years ago when she complained about racism in strong language.

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I wanted to give @lorealparis 48 hours before writing this to see if a public apology was possible. But their choice to ignore me and not acknowledge the emotional, mental and professional harm that they caused me since sacking me in 2017, after speaking out about white supremacy and racism, speaks volumes. So does their choice to not engage with the thousands of black community members and allies who have left comments of concern on their last two posts, in response to their claim to support the black community, despite an evident history of being unwilling to talk about the issues that black people face globally because of white supremacy. Black Lives Matter is a movement for the people, by the people. It is not here to be co-opted for capital gain by companies who have no intention of actually having difficult conversations regarding white supremacy, police brutality, colonialism and systemic racism. It cannot be reduced to a series of corporate trends by brands like L'Oréal who have no intention of actually doing the work to better themselves or taking ownership of their past mistakes or conscious acts of racial bias. I would not have been sacked if I had said what I said and was a cisgender, straight, white woman. It just wouldn't have happened. If you want to stand with black lives matter then get your own house in order first. This could have been a moment of redemption for L'Oréal, a chance for them to make amends and lead by example. We all get things wrong, we all make mistakes, but it's where you go from there that is a signifier of who you are. L'Oréal claiming to stand with the black community, yet also refusing to engage with the community on this issue, or apologise for the harm they caused to a black female queer transgender employee, shows us who they are – just another big brand who seeks to capitalise from a marginalised movement, by widening their audience and attempting to improve their public image. Brands need to be aware of their own track record. It's unacceptable to claim to stand with us, if the receipts show a history of silencing black voices. Speaking out can’t only be “worth it” when you’re white. Black voices matter.

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Meanwhile, US actor Tommy Dorfman, who appeared in a recent campaign for Salvatore Ferragamo, called out the Italian luxury brand for what he called a “homophobic and racist work environment”.

To this, Ferragamo responded by saying, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.”

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Released in February this year, @Ferragamo ’s #VivaViva campaign features a diverse range of six tastemakers—among them, Dara Allen, Paloma Elsesser, and Kiersey Clemens. But the campaign, which @tommy.dorfman both cast and photographed, seems to not have gone down as easily as the chill, progressive vibe it projects. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Following a #BlackLivesMatter Instagram post by the Italian luxury brand in which a range of two light to medium skin tones are represented, the actor, whose pronouns are they/them, said “I regret ever associating myself with the brand”, going on to describe repeated instances of the Italian brand’s racism, transphobia, and fatphobia: ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ “They have said heinous, transphobic, body phobic, and racist things directly to me. I called them out every time and they promised to change. They said they ‘learned’. They have very clearly not learned nor have they changed.” They even explain an instance when someone at the company asked if a Black model could be photoshopped white. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Despite consistently raising the issues to the Ferragamo team, Dorfman describes being met with pushback, “meaningless apologies”, and even the threat of legal action if they were to speak up. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ “We have to, as white people, take a look at where and when we have been complacent and part of racism, homophobia, and transphobia both directly and indirectly and call it out. Call ourselves out.”, the actor added. “People have the right to know where to spend their money and where not to”. • #ferragamo #salvatoreferragamo #luxury #italian #blm #blacklivesmatter #tommydorfman

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Dorfman shot back that people at the fashion house “have said heinous, transphobic, body phobic and racist things directly to me. I called them out every time and they promised to change.”

Read| Diet Prada calls out problematic Vogue covers, including one featuring Deepika Padukone

As many fashion houses posted black squares on Instagram, netizens challenged them to do more than that — to make runways, magazine covers, boardrooms and creative studios living showcases of diversity.

“People have the fire under their bottoms. Their stories are strong and their voices are being heard. If the industry ignores them, they can be kept accountable. Everyone is sharing, and corroborating, their stories,” American content creator based in Milan Tamu McPherson, who collaborates with top luxury brands, was quoted as saying. “In seven years, I am still one of the only black people invited into those spaces. That is unacceptable,” McPherson, who has been working with luxury brands since 2013, added.

The pushback against the industry has already had some positive outcomes. Bergdorf, who was sacked as L’Oreal UK’s first openly gay transgender model in 2017 has now been appointed as a consultant on the UK Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board to help influence and inform the brand. The offer came after she highlighted the company’s hypocrisy after it said that it “stands in solidarity with the Black community, and against injustice of any kind.”

The Fashion Spot, which has been conducting surveys since 2015, has also noted some progress in showcasing diversity on runways and magazine covers. The Spring 2020 season saw the highest level of diversity in four main fashion cities of Paris, Milan, New York and London, at 41.5 per cent, only to dip for the Fall 2020 shows, to 40.6 per cent. That remains an improvement from 17 per cent in the website’s inaugural survey for Spring 2015.

Luxury brands Gucci and Prada also announced long-term strategies last year to promote diverse voices that have not been properly represented in fashion, with scholarships. The announcement was made after they came under fire for designs that were deemed racist.

Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour also apologised to her employees for not doing enough to elevate black professionals. This came as Samira Nasr was named the first editor-in-chief of colour in the 153-year history of US Harper’s Bazaar.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell, the first black woman to appear on the cover of French Vogue, is also publicly calling for equal pay for models of colour, besides more representation.

(With inputs from AP)

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