After getting their hides peeled by high-profile critics for the past week, elite Italian fashion designer Gucci, finally broke its silence on the expensive sweater line that resembles blackface.
Gucci’s creative director claims that the $900 sweater was meant to pay homage to a deceased entertainment icon and was not intended to resemble blackface or Sambo.
Alessandro Michele, a reputed powerhouse designer at the Italian fashion house, said he is pained that his product has been equated to racism and “that of the people who saw in one of my creative projects an intolerable insult,” he said in his broken English.
The black sweater with a pull-up neck featured a cutout, surrounded by large, cartoonish red lips. Michele wrote that it was not inspired by blackface, but by the late Leigh Bowery, a performance artist, club promoter and fashion designer, who subscribed to bright, flamboyant face makeup and costumes.
Regardless of his alleged intentions, Michele said he takes “full accountability” for the sweater line in an internal memo that was obtained by Fashionista.com and Women’s Wear Daily.
Gucci has also apologized, saying in a previous statement posted on Twitter that it believes in diversity which is a “fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected and be at the forefront of every decision we make.”
The balaclava-style sweater that covered the nose above the cutout, retails for $890 and has been roundly ridiculed on social media as insensitive and racist. Movie director Spike Lee, music mogul Clifford “T.I.” Harris and rap giant Meek Mill, have declared consumer warfare against the fashion giant.
The scandal comes as attention in the U.S. was focused on old photos showing politicians with their faces blackened, most particularly with Virginia governor Ralph Northam.
Marco Bizzarri, Gucci’s president and CEO, told WWD, “The lack of knowledge of diversity and the consequent understanding are not at the level we expected, despite all the efforts we did inside the company in the last four years.”
He goes on to say Gucci is now “evaluating all the processes” to ensure “the right level of awareness and visibility.”
Gucci isn’t the only fashion company to face a blackface scandal. Prada was previously blasted for a collection of accessories that resembled the Sambo caricature. Most recently, Grammy-winning singer Katy Perry’s fashion label has discontinued a footwear design that also evoked racist imagery.