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    Blackface Scandals: How Red-Lipped Imagery Became a No-Go Zone in Fashion

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    The tradition of wearing blackface has its roots in the 19th century, when non-black comic performers put on black make-up with overdrawn lips to play caricatures of African-American characters.

    This form of make-up is widely considered racially charged in the United States nowadays, but major brands and fashionistas have still been mired in the blackface controversy — whether intentionally or not — in recent times.

    Last week, Katy Perry Collections joined the string of fashion lines accused of racism. The outrage was caused by black leather shoes featuring faces with large red lips — imagery social justice warriors said was reminiscent of blackface.

    Katy Perry pulled the shoes from sale on her website and from physical stores, saying that that the shoes were designed as an homage to modern art and surrealism. "I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface. Our intention was never to inflict any pain," she said in a statement.

    The pop star's comments came days after photos emerged from inside Vogue former creative director Grace Coddington's home, which exposed her collection of cookie jars depicting black women in white dresses, or so-called Mammy figures. These figures are considered a racial caricature of enslaved African American women within white households.

    Although they are not directly linked with blackface, many considered them to be just as offensive. A scathing piece in fashion blog The Cut described Coddington's photos as "another example of fashion's lingering, persistent, sometimes dumbfounding racial blind spot". Meanwhile, Brian Ferry, the photographer who posted the images, removed the photoshoot from his Instagram and re-uploaded it without the controversial photos.

    Also in February, Italian luxury brand Gucci was forced to apologise for its black balaclava sweater, which partly covered the face and had a mouth cut-out with oversized red lips.

    The firm removed the item from sale and expressed its commitment to increasing diversity among its employees and turning the incident "into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond".

    Following the Gucci scandal, the Independent's Chimmy Lawson made the case for "overwhelming whiteness in the fashion industry", voicing deep concerns over the alleged lack of awareness among "so many people within" the brand.

    Another Italian fashion giant, Prada, was slammed late last year for its line of black monkey keychains with huge red lips. Although the brand said the figures were "fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre", it was nevertheless forced to take them down.

    Moving on from monkeys to penguins, in 2016, popular winter sports brand Moncler found itself at the centre of a racism scandal following the release of a reversible jacket with a logo that resembled — drum roll, please — blackface.

    ​Moncler explained that the imagery was inspired by Malfi, a penguin created by artist duo FriendsWithYou.

    Anyway, the company has pulled the piece from its collection.

    Related:

    Rappers T.I., Soulja Boy Call for Gucci Boycott Over 'Blackface' Sweater
    Hillary Clinton Evokes 'Blackface' Comments Over 2019 Virginia Election Tweet
    101 Good Reasons Not to Wear Blackface
    Twitterians Accuse 'Blackface Gucci' of Jumping on 'Same Bandwagon as Prada'
    Virginia Attorney General Admits to Wearing Blackface in the Past
    Tags:
    stereotyping, Blackface, fashion, racism, Moncler, Prada, Gucci, Katy Perry, United States
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