In the 2018 holiday season, luxury fashion brands appear to be competing with one another for worst case of tone deaf racism.
On the heels of Dolce & Gabbana’s disastrous Chinese ad campaign, Prada found itself embroiled in its own controversy over monkey toys and keychains accused of evoking racist imagery. The company later apologized on Twitter, promising to recall the offensive figurines from its new “Pradamalia” line of collectibles.
“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,” the company statement read. “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.”
Mashable reached out to Prada for further comment but did not immediately hear back.
The backlash began on Thursday, Nov. 6, when New York Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Chinyere Ezie called out the figurines as modern examples of the racist American blackface tradition. Specifically, the “Otto” and “Toto” characters bear an uncanny resemblance to the 1899 children’s book caricature, Little Black Sambo.
In her viral Facebook post about the Pradamalia toys, Ezie said that, “When I asked a Prada employee whether they knew they had plastered blackface imagery throughout their store, in a moment of surprising candor I was told that a black employee had previously complained about blackface at Prada, but he didn’t work there anymore.“
She also pointed out that this kind of oversight would probably never have happened if Prada had any people of color in positions of power, suggesting a long list of consultants and board members they could hire to rectify the situation.
Hip hop artist Talib Kweli noted on his Instagram that Prada’s official of the Pradamalia as a “fantasy” has its own issues, too, writing: “So Prada hired a team of researchers to come up with mysterious creatures that have ‘Prada DNA’ (whatever thats supposed to mean) and little ‘sambo’ dolls is what they came up with? 🤔 I guess they think we all live in the same fantasy world and all still have time to play with dolls…”
The rampant, systemic racism in the fashion industry is finally getting the widespread attention it deserves, as the fallout from these recent scandals show. But it will take much more than just apologies and recalls to make it right.
Gothamist captured video of Prada employees removing the dolls from the SoHo store display case, and the offensive characters have been taken down from its online store. But social media users are still reporting sightings of the figurines in promotional materials across New York.
Ezie’s continues to provide updates to the story on Twitter, and she calls for Prada to do more. “History cannot continue to repeat itself. Black America deserves better. And we demand better,” she wrote in her initial post.
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