The festive season is an important time of year for any fashion label — a period to recoup sales and set a positive trajectory for the coming year.
Which makes it all the more surprising that Prada, a label known for its cerebral, intellectual approach to fashion, decided to release a festive collection that has been lambasted for being racist.
Part of the Pradamalia collection, the figurine in question is called Otto and is an updated version of one of Prada’s recurring motifs, the monkey. It was created in collaboration with 2x4inc (which also did Prada’s pop up at the recent Art Basel: Miami Beach). However, the reworked figure now bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the 1890s book character Little Black Sambo.
The story came to light late last week then Chinyere Ezie, a lawyer for the New York Center for Constitutional Rights, saw the figures in the window of the Soho Prada store in New York, and took to Facebook to condemn the design, calling it "blackface". Many Twitter and Facebook joined the condemnation, with many demanding a boycott of the brand.
In response, Prada issued a public apology, took down the offending window display, and removed the $550 key rings and toys from sale. "The Pradamalia are fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre. They are imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface,” Prada's statement reads. “Prada Group never had the intention of offending anyone and we abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery. In this interest, we will withdraw all of the characters in question from display and circulation.”
While it is good that Prada reacted so quickly, the question remains of why this was allowed to go ahead in the first place.
In January this year, high street giant H&M was forced to publicly apologise after dressing a black child in a T-shirt that read "Coolest monkey in the Jungle", while in May Vogue Italia was criticised for a cover that showed Gigi Hadid in blackface. Marc Jacobs was slammed for adorning his almost all white models in dreadlocks at his spring/summer 2017 runway show.
Unfortunately, the fashion industry has a long history of causing offence. In 1994, Chanel caused outrage when it sent Claudia Schiffer down the runway with a verse from the Quran written on her dress, prompting Claude Eliette, the brand's then chief executive, to visit the Grand Mosque of Paris to personally apologise. Back in 1994, however, the world was less aware, and less attuned to wider conversations around respect and diversity. That such lapses of judgment are still happening in 2018 is frankly unacceptable.