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beauty is pop culture // sex rules the world 

  • Arianne Obi

The internet is the judge and jury for fashion brand's racist blunders.

All images were sourced on Pinterest. Nightstand Service does not claim any ownership.

Why is this still happening? Looking back on fashion's racist brand blunders.

January kicked off Fashion Month with a bang, and made us all fall back in love with craftsmanship. Pharrell went full ‘save a horse, ride a cowboy’ mode at LV and now we want to unironically wear a bolo tie with some cheeky little chaps. Simone Rocha gave the girls what they wanted, collaborating with industry veteran JPG to make a collection reminiscent of a modern day Marie Antoinette. The MVP, of course, was Pat McGrath, whose glazed makeup techniques left us with a sensation only to be described as gagged.

Credit: Dazed via TikTok

Of course there were flops too, with Egon Labs' racist blunder ruining what would be otherwise a perfectly good collection, demonstrating that common sense is not that common.

Both a black and white male model were sent down the runway in ‘invisible t-shirts’, with each evoking different messaging. Whilst the creative brief may have been innovative, Generation TikTok had something else to say about this. Keyboard Warriors were baffled, given that the black model looked labelled and tagged, with a farmer's tan to match, thus besmirching the ‘Emperor's New Clothes’ concept. Slaves were literally put on the market during the trade between the 15th and 19th centuries, therefore this direction appears to take us 200 years back into the past. It dehumanises the model stomping down the runway, making him appear more commodity than living soul.

I often wonder how many creatives it takes to oversee these errors (there must be a joke in tha), but this is not the first time a fashion brand has f*cked up, capitalising off ethnic history and culture. Roll the tapes…

Credit: Dolce & Gabbana via Instagram


First victims - Dolce and Gabbana - can be regarded as the fashion industry's racist, sexist and homophobic uncles. Controversy is as much part of their lore as their Italian Heritage; producing anti-black earrings in 2012, criticising gay parenthood in 2015 and producing a ($2000) ‘Slave Sandal’ in 2018. The icing on the cake, however, was their ad campaign in 2018, launched ahead of their Shanghai fashion show. These display a Chinese model struggling to eat Italian delicacies with chopsticks, and were heavily criticised online for being disrespectful of Chinese culture. It didn't stop there, the show was cancelled outright and Stefano Gabbana’s response sparked further outrage, thus threatening the future of the brand in the East and causing reputational and financial losses.

Credit: H&M


The list of the H&M crimes feels ceaseless, including unfair labour practices, sexualisation of minors and environmental malpractice. One to remember was their ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’ jumper; a hoodie modelled by a young black boy. It was a tone-deaf and irresponsible act, not least coming from a fast fashion conglomerate with a bad reputation. Historically, black people have been regarded as lesser species, with the term ‘Monkey’ being used derogatorily. The outcome? The Weeknd cut ties with the brand, Celebrities like the LeBron said their piece and a social media furore was born.

Credit: Diet Prada via Instagram


Marni is another Italian label who has faced backlash from racist accusations. As the saying goes; In Diet Prada We Trust - since 2014 fashion watchdog has been the judge and jury on what’s hot and what’s not, and in July 2020 it was one of the first to throw Marni under the bus for its portrayal of black people. In a campaign named (eyeroll) ‘Jungle Mood’, it depicts dark-skinned models juxtaposed with phrases alluding to tribalism. Motifs like clay, straw, chains and nudity are used, thus dehumanising the models and making them appear primitive. Albeit visually striking, the campaign was shot by an Afro-Brazilian photographer which calls into question the original aim of the art direction. Nonetheless, given that Marni has a history of euro-centric white people at the helm of power in its organisation, it makes itself another fashion brand to enable pervasive racism to exist in its elitist world.

Other honourable mentions:

  • Moncler’s Gollywog Jacket

  • Kendall and Kylie’s whole personalities, hair

  • Gucci’s Sikh Turbans

  • Katy Perry’s blackface shoes

Quotas and apologies that sound like they were made by Chat GPT won’t be the saviour to fashion’s history problem, so what can brands learn from this?

What brands can learn from this:

Diversity need not be just on the runway or in campaigns, but in senior leadership. We know that fashion has a plague of white, male, directors, and this lack of diversity is reflected in senior leadership across the board. We need a myriad of perspectives in the boardroom to avoid errors like these, people’s whose voice and decision making matters and can trickle down into entire organisations.

Brands should test their campaigns on different types of audiences to ensure that their messaging is being clearly understood and is culturally aware. If necessary, they should adapt these for different platforms and local markets.

Brands need to be accountable, proactive and self aware, sometimes overly cautious to not make mistakes. This can have an impact on their reputation and revenue, especially if key audiences lie in emerging markets.

Brands need to consider their audience. With Gen Z becoming the largest consumers and luxury whilst also prioritising liberal values, brands need to take a hard look at their choices to build trust and loyalty in their audience.

Are you passionate about exploring the intricate worlds of beauty, sex, fashion, wellness and culture ? Do you belong to a marginalised community and have unique perspectives and stories to share? If so, Nightstand Service is eagerly seeking contributing writers like you! Get in touch:


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