At a time when the debate on diversity in fashion is intensifying, some fashion people are displaying despicable levels of ignorance and stupidity.
Every year, the creme of the fashion world gathers in Milan to celebrate Hallowood, a party considered by industry insiders as one of the most prestigious Halloween events in the world. Hallowood is usually a fun display of creativity, with famous designers, models, and photographers exhibiting decadent costumes. This year, the theme of the party was "Disco Africa," but some of the guests seem to have misread the invitation and showed up in full-on blackface makeup.
Now pictures from the party are emerging, starting an uproar on social media: How can designers and their friends ignore that blackface remains a painful symbol of racism, even today?
Blackface was used as a theatrical makeup gimmick in vaudeville and early movies at the beginning of the 20th century to caricature a black person. That was before the civil rights movement, and the efforts that have continuously been made since, to educate people on the offensive connotations of such imagery.
Overlooking the weight of American racist symbols is simply ignorant and shows a lack of understanding of the struggles that black people have faced in America -- or anywhere in the world.
Sometimes, the costume inspiration veered even further from the Africa theme: The website Fashion Bomb Daily reported on the party and posted a picture on Instagram of designer Alessandro Dell'Acqua with black face paint and a big white smile (above), in the same way Al Jolson painted himself black in The Jazz Singer (the first talking movie, released in 1927) or the comic duo Amos 'n' Andy disguised themselves to ridicule black people in the '30s.
Fashion Bomb Daily captioned the photo with "This is outrageous!!!", a feeling echoed by the websites Fashionista and the Huffington Post, which posted more images documenting some of the night's most questionable costumes.
The Hallowood controversy follows the much-publicized outing of actress Julianne Hough (Dancing With The Stars) who recently went to a Halloween party dressed as "Crazy Eyes," an African-American character in the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black. Hough wore an orange jumpsuit and darkened her skin with brown makeup to channel the look of Uzo Aduba in the show, prompting a strong blacklash that led her to write an apology on Twitter.
Similarly, the designer Alessandro Dell'Acqua, who appeared in blackface with a group of sidekicks at Hallowood, issued a mea culpa on his Twitter account:
\u201cIt Was not my intention to be disrespectful of offensive to anyone with my halloween costume . I realize that it hurt some people and\u201d
The organizer of the party, photographer Giampaolo Sgura, also released an official statement on Instagram:
As the organizers of the fashion party "Hallowood Disco Africa", we would like to sincerely apologize that this private party offended so many people. It was never our intention to do so. We had named the party "Disco Africa" to reflect the growing influence of Africa in the design and fashion world, not only as a growing market but also as the source of creative ideas. In retrospect, we clearly failed to think through the possible negative consequences and interpretations that might have resulted and appeared in both traditional and social media. These interpretations are all the more upsetting because most people in the fashion industry, from which we come, have always taken a strong stand against social discrimination whether on sexual, religious or racial grounds. Creative talent is what counts, not a person's social, racial, religious or sexual background. We're so sorry that we failed to make our position clear and gave the impression of racism. We are now much wiser and will do our very best to clarify our position in the future.