MILAN — Facing accusations that a balaclava-style sweater available on its online shop and physical stores evoked blackface, Gucci issued a statement on Thursday through its Twitter account.
“We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected and at the forefront of every decision we make,” the statement read.
The black knit top is a turtleneck style covering the bottom half of the face with a cutout and giant red lips around the mouth. The item is no longer available on the brand’s online shop and the company said it was removed from brick-and-mortar stores, as well.
“We are fully committed to increasing diversity throughout our organization and turning this incident into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond,” the company remarked.
Social media users, especially on Twitter, expressed a wave of disapproval.
“Balaclava knit top by Gucci. Happy Black History Month y’all,” wrote Rashida, pointing to the annual observance in the U.S. and Canada celebrating important people and events in the history of the African diaspora, which takes place in February. Influencer and producer Daniel Preda also took to Twitter to express his discontent. “I can identify that ‘fashion’ sweater on a mannequin as something that represents vintage blackface caricatures and is inappropriate, absolutely,” he tweeted.
After the Italian luxury company issued the statement, the online audience reacted diversely.
“Finding diverse ‘qualified’ talent is important because a black person could have warned them to pick another color around the mouth area because it might resemble blackface images and some may be offended, “ wrote Twitter user Keyona.
Others questioned today’s inclination to ignite controversies at all costs.
“No. You better get that top back in the stores! Nothing wrong with it at all. It’s obviously not blackface, people just reaching for any reason to hate these days. And beg for a couple likes along the way,” wrote Liam Scott.
Gucci is not the first brand to have been accused of using such imagery. Last December, Prada Group issued a statement saying it “abhors racist imagery” in the wake of online accusations that animal-like figurines and charms, called Pradamalia, in its stores and windows evoked blackface. Prada vowed to withdraw them from “display and circulation.”
Also this week, popular Instagram account Diet Prada called out Gucci for its spring ad campaign’s lack of diversity. Drawing inspiration from Hollywood’s musical movies of the Forties and Fifties, the campaign missed in depicting people of color that made history in Hollywood, according to Diet Prada.
“Rather than seizing the chance to celebrate its true spectrum of pioneers — albeit limited — pushing a singular white narrative of Old Hollywood was a missed opportunity to forward fashion’s diversity agenda, especially coming from a brand that has shown inclusivity,” the account wrote on Instagram.
Following the accusation, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele posted on his personal Instagram account a frame from the video campaign depicting a dancer of color in the background. Michele captioned the post “I love all color” enclosed between two black heart-shaped emojis.