It looks like designer Jeremy Scott may have been taking the phrase “slave to fashion” a bit too literally. Scott’s collaboration with Adidas resulted in a pair of sneakers that came with an orange ankle cuff, attached to the purple shoes with a fake chain. Though the designs were unveiled months ago, when Adidas began to promote them on its Facebook page, outraged bloggers set off the latest fashion firestorm, with the Rev. Jesse Jackson calling the shoe racist and degrading. Adidas has tabled their plans to produce the shoe, and apologized.
As for Jeremy Scott, the designer: He has a reputation for sticking a thumb in the eye of the establishment and revels in bad taste and childhood references, with his Bart Simpson and Lisa Frank-inspired collection for New York Fashion Week being Exhibit A. So when he announced that the shoe was inspired by a toy called “My Pet Monster,” a furry plush creature that also wears orange shackles, it seemed pretty plausible. Scott said in a statement to the AP: “My work has always been inspired by cartoons, toys & my childhood.”
Even though Scott has denied any connection to slavery, the outcry is something that Adidas and the designer should have forecasted — particularly because this is just the latest in a seriest of events that demonstrate a history of racial insensitivity. It took a while for black models to grace runways and covers — and even now, they have to work twice as hardto command the kind of work and salaries that white models do, according to fashion booker Annie Wilshaw in the Guardian. Fashion designers, writers and editors can come across as tone-deaf to racial issues, getting caught up in PR crises akin to the one that Adidas is experiencing right now — like a French Elle editor who wrote that African-Americans were not stylish until the Obamas came to the White House, and even then, because the couple embraces “white codes.” Or the Dutch fashion magazine that used the n-word in a profile of Rihanna. Or the John Galliano racism trial, after the designer made racist and anti-Semitic remarks in a Parisian restaurant last year. Or the time that Vogue Italia highlighted “slave” hoop earrings as the latest trend. Or that periodic use of blackface as a makeup and styling trick, or the use of people of other cultures and races as mere props in a photo shoot.
These missteps may be the result of the industry’s continual quest to push boundaries and do something new with each change of the fashion season — and it certainly doesn’t help that the industry lacks diversity (Less than 20% of all models in February’s Fashion Week weren’t white — and Jezebel said that it was the most diverse fashion week in ages). But because PR crises seem to cycle as frequently as the fashion seasons change, shouldn’t designers and editors have developed a better radar for racial sensitivity by now?