Gucci removes £690 balaclava top after accusations of ‘blackface’

Minstrel Poster Collection, Library of Congress and Gucci screengrab

Gucci has apologised and removed a black and red balaclava knit jumper after people noticed it looked suspiciously similar to how white people in racist minstrel shows wore blackface.

People took to Twitter to criticise the fashion house’s knit top from its Fall/Winter 2018 season, which sold for £690 on its website and features a cut-out mouth that is lined with red.

On Gucci's website, where the garment has since been removed, a description said: “Inspired by vintage ski masks, multicolored knitted balaclavas walked the runway, adding a mysterious feel to this collection. This knit top combines the accessory with the ready-to-wear collection.”

Lots of people, however, suggested that the inspiration came from minstrel shows and blackface – and they’re angry.

Twitter user Rashida was among the first people to spot the similarity. She sarcastically observed: “Balaclava knit top by Gucci. Happy Black History Month y’all.”

Another person added:

This shit is absolutely unacceptable and @gucci needs to get rid of this shit IMMEDIATELY and apologize to OUR [Black] community. The lack of originality and creativity these brands have is absolutely unsettling & the frequent use of black trauma for capital gain is extra gross

Others are demanding Gucci hire more people of colour so that such racial insensitivities don't happen again.

Former magazine editor and model Vanessa ‘the GLOWBOSS’ Veasley wrote:

If you hire more Black people and cultivate an environment where people on all levels of the company feel comfortable to speak up incidents like this will be avoided.

Gucci isn't the first high fashion house who was caught up in accusations of racism.

Last year, Prada was forced to apologise for a New York store display featuring what people believed to be a Golliwog, the 19th century blackface character with larg red lips. Such keyrings were also included in the line.

Responding to intense backlash, Gucci apologised and took the jumper off its website and, in a statement, the high fashion giant wrote:

Gucci deeply apologises for the offense caused by the wool balaclava jumper. We can confirm that the item has been immediately removed from our online store and all physical stores.

We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected, and at the forefront of every decision we make. We are fully committed to increasing diversity throughout our organisation and turning this incident into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond.

What is blackface?

Blackface is the act of a non-black person using makeup to paint their face in an effort to represent a caricatured depiction of a black person.

It is seen as derogatory and offensive, and the practise has its roots in the 19th century, where blackface was used by white performers in minstrel shows to caricature black people and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, like the ‘dandified coon’ and the ‘happy go lucky darky on the plantation'.

Three Virginia politicians are embroiled in controversy after past photographs depicting blackface were recently unearthed.

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