The best paragraphs in Robin Givhan’s WaPo commentary “Seriously, Prada, what were you thinking?: Why the fashion industry keeps bumbling into racist imagery” isn’t the narrative around Prada’s utter stupidity in their SoHo window display of items from their Pradamalia collection.
AOC readers know that we do not hop on the bandwagon of every alleged act of fashion industry cultural appropriation or racism. But Givhan is correct and we concur: what in goddesses name were you thinking Prada?
Let’s take a different approach here because Givan has done a superb job of also telling the experience of Chinyere Ezie’s reaction upon seeing the Prada store window in Soho. We will quote liberally in a moment, but let’s back up even further and introduce Prada to this woman. From her website:
Chinyere Ezie (Cheen-Yer-Ray Ay-Zee-Ay) is a nationally recognized civil rights lawyer and social justice activist who specializes in constitutional litigation and anti-discrimination work. In 2016, Chinyere was named one of the country's Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40.
Chinyere is a Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights where she focuses on racial justice, gender justice, and LGBT rights work. Chinyere previously worked as a Staff Attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center LGBT Rights Project, where she was lead counsel for transgender rights activist Ashley Diamond in her suit against the Georgia Department of Corrections. Chinyere also worked as a Trial Attorney at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission where she successfully represented employees who had been subjected to discrimination--securing a $5.1 million dollar trial verdict.
Chinyere is a William J. Fulbright Scholar and a graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, where she served as President of Columbia Outlaws and Editor in Chief of the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law.
She also clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and worked as an associate at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen, and Hamilton LLP in New York City.
In her free time, Chinyere enjoys photography, graphic design, and spending time with her wife and puppy.
Based on her stellar credentials, Chinyere Ezie more than qualifies as Prada’s target customer, although she is not one. Now, via Robin Givhan’s narrative, we share Ezie’s experience on meeting up with Prada’s SoHo window. Personally, I think all the great African goddesses were her spirit wings in this painful life episode, quietly hopping as invisible spirits on her shoulders when Ezie left DC’s National Museum of African American History and Culture for the return trip to New York.
Life In A Heavy Space
“It’s a heavy space. Our history in this country is heavy,” says Ezie, who is black. “It was a very emotional day. I kind of joked that I’d never wept in public before.”
Ezie had gotten off the subway at Prince Street, where she passed the Prada store windows. Astonished, she suddenly stood in front of Prada ‘trinkets’ that reminded her of the racist propaganda she’d just viewed in the DC museum. “I felt enraged. I felt flabbergasted. I felt confused.”
“I can’t say that I’m a loyal customer of Prada. I don’t think I would have gone into the store had I not been assaulted by the images, Ezie explained” But propelled by a need to document what she was seeing — because any reasonable, empathetic American woman would have her response —she went into the Prada store to take pictures. Later, the star lawyer did “a reality check,” showing the Prada pics to her mother and her co-workers. “Am I missing something?” she asked them. They agree; AOC agrees, Anne Enke agrees. She is not missing anything and we have to wonder if no one at Prada’s Soho store thought this was a problem. Did the store manager of Prada Soho think this was a great Christmas message to Trumplandia? New Yorkers can’t stand Trump. Why in the name of the goddesses would you put big fat red lips on a black body in the window of any store in America.
Italy may be down with slavery and the history of black suffering undercolonialism, but we are not. America is torn to shreds on multiple levels over the despicable treatment of black people in this nation’s history. NBC just fired Megyn Kelly over her blackface comments. I ask again, knowing that the Megyn Kelly episode is about six weeks ago. why did the store manager of Prada Soho allow such a stupid event to occur, no matter what directive for holiday spirit windows came from Milano?
On Friday more than a dozen former athletes at the University of North Carolina, including several star basketball players helped scuttle a plan to display “Silent Sam,” a Confederate monument toppled by protesters in August, in a new campus history center. Reality check Prada SoHo. Do you ever read the nation’s headlines?
I threatened to resign from Victoria’s Secret in an epic moment around putting Naomi Campbell photography in our windows as planned. I didn’t get fired or demoted for insubordination. And Naomi reigned in all her sensual beauty in our close-to-Christmas windows.
Humans have voices of common sense and reason, for goddesses sake. Otherwise, just bring in the robots.
Designer Miuccia Prada, who I adore, was considered “One of the prime instigators of the all-white, homogeneous runways of the 1990s”, writes Givhan. The designer has worked to turn around her reputation, taking a strong lead in casting models of color in both ad campaigns and on the runway.
Givhan fairly highlights that in September, Prada’s contemporary art foundation opened “The Black Image Corporation,” an installation conceived by artist Theaster Gates that explores the photography archives of Johnson Publishing, featuring highlights from Ebony and Jet magazines and the legendary Fashion Fair traveling runway production. To celebrate the opening of the Milan exhibition, directors Spike Lee and Dee Rees did a panel discussion with Gates on racism in America.
Robin is more forgiving than I am, but we all need to try and build bridges of understanding around this painful topic.
Fashion companies are fluent in the language of marketing. Designers are savants of the visual arts. But both often lack the ability to see beyond the surface — beyond the sales pitch and the color palette — to get at the complex humanity of people. A designer can be deeply moved by one individual’s story yet able to overlook or ignore the story of an entire population. And designers, for as much as they travel around the globe, are often still deeply rooted in their own culture. They continue to see everything from their own point of view. To some degree, that is their job. They digest a bounty of inspiration. And they create something personal and proprietary.
That’s an explanation, however, not an excuse. “I don’t cut them slack” because they’re an Italian company, Ezie says. “There are black people everywhere. They’re a multinational brand. That tells me they don’t have black people in their boardroom.” Globalism demands allowing more voices — more diverse voices — into the creative process and into the decision-making equation.
“Take a step back,” Ezie advises, “and reckon with what their company looks like and if diversity is embraced.”
“And since this is not blackface on some college campus, but blackface at $550 [a charm] — divest the profits,” she says. “Donate the proceeds to an organization committed to racial justice.”
In a letter of apology Prada sent to Ezie, it acknowledged her request: “Given your suggestion, we will donate proceeds from these products to a New York-based organization committed to fighting for racial justice, which is a value that we strongly believe in. We will learn from this and we will do better.”
Just this week, AOC has written on this subject within the context of Confederate monuments and racial reconciliation. To save friends to having to click, we will close with former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu’s epic speech on slavery and Confederate monuments.