By Shawna Healey
When Lauren Weisberger wrote The Devil Wears Prada, this probably wasn’t quite what she had in mind.
Prada is an Italian luxury fashion house, specialising in leather handbags, travel accessories, ready-to-wear and other fashion accessories. Miuccia Bianchi Prada, granddaughter of founder Mario Prada, is the brand’s head designer.
Prada had recently revealed, and then subsequently pulled from their collection, their ‘Pradamalia’ toys. These toys and keychains invoke images of racism through blackface, bearing troubling resemblance to Sambo’s “pickaninny” drawings.
The backlash began when New York attorney Chinyere Ezie spotted the toys in a Prada display window near the Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture. Ezie wrote in a Facebook post that she was “confronted with the very same racist and denigrating #blackface imagery” in the Prada display window as she was in the Smithsonian.
When Ezie entered the store and asked an employee about whether they knew they were displaying blackface imagery throughout the store, the employee replied that a black employee had complained about blackface at Prada, but no longer worked at the store.
Prada released a statement via Twitter, stating: “The Pradamalia are fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre. They are are imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world, and certainly not blackface.”
[1/2] #Prada Group abhors racist imagery. 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 (@Prada) December 14, 2018
Prada is now facing backlash, with one Twitter describing the toys as “golliwogs for rich people”.
"Pradamalia fantasy charms" There just golliwogs for rich people pic.twitter.com/GxEg5jRix7
— sweetlikeliquoricedangerouslikesyphilis (@melfree) December 14, 2018
Diet Prada, an Instagram account with over a million followers, described this act of racism is “surprising” as the company is “known (at least recently) for the inclusivity in their casting. Prada propelled Anok Yai and Jourdan Dunn into near supermodel status.”
Prada recently launched ‘The Black Image Corporation’, an exhibition highlighting the importance of black American publishers and photographers, particularly in Milan and Miami.
View this post on Instagram
Woke up on the morning of our fourth birthday to some news about our namesake @prada . The “Pradamalia” collection, produced in collaboration with @2x4inc , features fantasy “lab-created” animals. According to a press release about the collab, the creatures mix up the codes of the house into their features. Many are comparing "Otto", a resulting mutation of one of Prada's oldest mascots, the monkey, to Little Sambo, a children's book character from 1899, who exemplified the pickaninny style of blackface caricature, though other examples from as early as 1769 can be found. The exaggerated stereotypes propagated racism freely back then, but it's apparent that the legacy of the harmful imagery still affects how we contextualize racism today. This is surprising from Prada, who's known (at least recently) for the inclusivity of their casting, propelling then unknown models like Anok Yai and Jourdan Dunn into near supermodel status…not to mention casting Naomi Campbell in that 1994 campaign at a time when it was generally deemed "risky" to cast people of color in international luxury campaigns. Recently, they mounted "The Black Image Corporation", an exhibition highlighting the importance and legacy of black creators in American publishing and photography, in both Milan and Miami. Representation is important, but understanding how to navigate the nuances of how the world perceives racism is even more so. One thing is pretty clear though…given recent scandals, luxury brands operating on a massive global scale need more systems in place to avoid controversies like this. A suggestion for now: more diversity on a corporate level for positions that actually hold power in decision making and brand imaging. Prada issued a swift apology on twitter and are in the process of removing the products from display and sale, but no mention on Instagram yet. Dieters, chime in with your thoughts! • Source: Chinyere Ezie via Twitter (@ lawyergrrl) • #prada #blackface #littlesambo #retailproblems #retaildisplay #soho #nyc #dietprada
Prada’s attempts at inclusivity don’t, however, excuse their blatant racism. Prada said that the images were “fantasy”. Be that as it may, this begs the question: whose fantasy? Some have suggested that were Prada to increase their efforts to hire a diverse workforce throughout all departments, from designers to editors, such faux pas could be avoided.
This marks the latest addition to a current trend of luxury brands facing accusations of racism, and whilst some may believe that “any press is good press”, instances such as Dolce and Gabbana losing Chinese trade due to their explicit racism can and will result in negative financial consequences. It might be too early to tell if these toys will hurt Prada financially, but in this social and economic climate, they should be worried.