The Luxury of Whiteness: Gucci & Co.

Veni. Vidi. Vici. I gotta connect some dots around this (latest?) Gucci nonsense. So @diet_prada pronounced the brand’s spring-summer 2019 campaign “both beautiful and bothersome.” Gucci press release: An homage to the beginnings of celebrity culture and the golden age of Hollywood musicals, the campaign focuses on the joyful and playful spirit of the era. Predictably, regrettably, the video turned out to be an #OscarSoWhite tribute featuring no performers of color. [UPDATE: days after this “situation”, Gucci one-upped itself by dropping a proper blackface sweater. Consistency, much?!].

This is NOT a missed opportunity or a failed teachable moment. That popular line of online feedback is misguidedly wishful. THIS IS IT. This is the Vision. No white-washing, a white-out. Gucci ranks fourth in capital among luxury brands and competes with Netflix for growth momentum. Gucci consistently reigns supreme in Digital IQ and online traffic within its peer group. Gucci knows better. What Gucci is selling is (access to) White Privilege. Welcome to the banquet! Reserved seating only.

THE RECIPE

There would be no luxury industry as we know it without white supremacy. Full stop. Luxury equals Money plus Power, times Whiteness. (M+P) x W = Luxury. I am a fashion scientist, trust me. From forced extraction of natural resources to forced labor, from insidious cultural appropriation to blatant artefact theft, from A to Z… the current Luxury Paradigm is a product of White Privilege at the service of Whiteness. Yes, it is being disrupted by brilliant visionaries (read up on VanLeles Diamonds, for example). But a disruption does not dismantle a System. Not when its key culprits and beneficiaries double-down on viral marketing. I see y’all. Peekaboo! [UPDATE: here is satirist Trevor Noah with a breakdown of both historical and contemporary implications of #blackface in American politics and global luxury industry]

THE CHEFS

Gucci is not singular in its instinctual reachback for “the joyful and playful spirit of the era” before black lives really mattered. Three months ago, Dolce & Gabbana flaunted its true racist colors prior to a cancelled show in Shanghai, China. If you don’t know what this refers to, I can’t… Just google it. Three weeks ago, Miuccia Prada (fashion’s premier feminist) offered a truly stunning insight into her own – and by extension, corporate – critical thinking on matters of race. Following a racist knickknack fallout earlier in the holiday shopping season, this was her scheduled interview with WWD, a major intra-industry media outlet. This is not an out of context remark. This is the context.

“I increasingly think anything one does today can cause offense. The Chinese protest, then the Sikh, then Mexicans, then Afro-Americans. But how can you know the details of each single culture so well when there can be 100 different cultures in every country? … People want respect because now there is talk of cultural appropriation, but this is the foundation of fashion, as it has always been the basis of art, of everything.” – Miuccia Prada, WWD

Of everything, she said. Of. Every. Thing. As a white man, I still got white privilege whiplash reading that. Ciao, amore.

Prada_Monkey_CNN
Chinyere Ezie (c) 2018 via @CNN

THE DISH

Ok. But how can one market the same things everywhere to everyone when one is – apparently – aware that there can be “100 different cultures in every country”?! Because Whiteness is the Default Setting. By design. European luxury brands are powered by (neo)colonialism and its multiple euro-centric legacies. Many of them continue to choose to see the world accordingly and thus, act pathologically out of touch with the future which definitively belongs neither to Europe as an arbiter of taste nor to white people as a majority population. Case study, please!

Harrods is London’s iconic department store. Cartier is its largest jewelry resident. Both enterprises were founded within two years of each other, mid-19th century. It’s a match made in imperial heaven. Last winter, Cartier premiered a Christmas shopping ad featuring an all-white cast of bellboys at Harrods. It was tepidly called-out for non-diversity. A major faux pas? From two major luxury brands? Deduct me this, Sherlock! In mid-1990s, most of Harrods clientele resided within three miles of the shop. Three decades later, the store, now owned by the state of Qatar, relies predominantly on Chinese and Middle Eastern visitors for its revenue. The number one commodity on the luxury market today is (access to) White Privilege. The all-white allure then makes perfect sense. Whiteness by means of Luxury marketing ushers in Corporate Supremacy. Signed, sealed, delivered. Not yours.

This January, Cartier “gathered the glitterati’s finest” at the Museum of Geology in Paris for an “out of this world” party. Not my words. That’s Vogue. The dinner was served by mysterious figures cloaked in white hoods. I’m including screenshots. It’s one of those you-had-to-be-there moments. Internet argued whether KKKartier went too far. In fact, Cartier didn’t go anywhere at all. It’s frustratingly “on brand”. Part of White Privilege is (extremely) selective memory and a gift of selective disassociation. For a global brand to appear unaware of triggering impact of such White Supremacist imagery is… well, in my earlier post about White Imagination in the creative industries, I noted that “White Imagination pushes Abstraction as an Anesthetic. It really likes real story, but it doesn’t need the real story.” It was just a dinner, just a video, just a trinket. Why can’t we just shut up and buy?! These brands are just NOT connecting the dots. Like, meanwhile, Cartier is buying back unsold merchandise throughout Asia to safeguard it from discounts. That’s not gossip. That’s Business of Fashion. There is a massively growing consumer base outside the Luxury Bubble. Perhaps, Museum of Geology is an appropriate (resting) space for this here Luxury, after all. Veni. Vidi. Mori. Post-Paris salutes the joyful and playful spirit of the next era!

 

P.S. The cover image features Hollywood rose-tinted sunglasses from Gucci. #Apropos

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