2019 has had no shortage of brand controversies in the fashion and beauty worlds.
The year started off with a number of gaffes from some of the biggest luxury fashion houses, in many cases resulting in public outcry, public apologies and, sometimes, changes in company policy. Some of the most notable fashion controversies of 2019 were Gucci’s infamous “blackface” balaclava and Burberry’s noose sweater. Kim Kardashian also came under fire for cultural appropriation when she revealed the name her first fashion line, a shapewear collection called Kimono.
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From the backlash against Related Cos. chairman Stephen Ross and his many companies to Jaclyn Hill’s beauty brand recall, here is a breakdown of all the fashion and beauty brand controversies of 2019.
Gucci accused of cultural appropriation, twice — February and May 2019
Gucci came under fire for cultural appropriation not once, but twice in 2019. The first incident was in February when the designer house released a balaclava-style sweater in its fall 2018 ready-to-wear collection and on its web site, which many claimed resembled blackface.
The backlash was immediate on social media, including by Gucci collaborator Dapper Dan, who took to his Twitter account to express his disappointment in the brand.
“I am a black man before I am a brand,” he wrote on Feb. 10. “Another fashion house has gotten it outrageously wrong. There is no excuse nor apology that can erase this kind of insult.”
Gucci quickly responded to the backlash, with chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri stating in an exclusive interview with WWD that “this is due to the ignorance of this matter. Certainly, it was not intentional, but this is not an excuse. We make mistakes, and certain [ones] are worse than others because they offend people. The lack of knowledge of diversity and the consequent understanding are not at the level we expected, despite all the efforts we did inside the company in the last four years.”
The brand also issued an apology on its Twitter, stating: “We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected and at the forefront of every decision we make. We are fully committed to increasing diversity throughout our organization and turning this incident into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond.”
Gucci then announced that Bizzarri was to meet with Dapper Dan and community leaders in Harlem, N.Y., to receive their insight and to ensure long-term cultural awareness for the brand. The company also announced other measures to foster cultural diversity and awareness, including hiring global and regional directors for diversity and inclusion, setting up a multicultural design scholarship program, launching a diversity and inclusivity awareness program and launching a global exchange program.
Despite these announcements, Gucci made headlines again in May by selling a headscarf dubbed “Indy Full Turban” for $780, which many on social media claimed was insensitive toward the Sikh culture.
Sold on Nordstrom’s web site — the retailer changed the product’s name to “Indy Full Head Wrap” before later taking it down — the headpiece was a part of Gucci’s fall 2018 rtw collection, the same runway show that featured the controversial balaclavas.
Backlash again ensued against the brand, with the Sikh Coalition tweeting its disappointment toward Gucci and Nordstrom on May 15, stating: “The Sikh turban is not a fashion accessory, but it’s also a sacred religious article of faith. We hope more can be done to recognize this critical context. #appropriation.”
Although the product caused outrage, Gucci did not formally apologize for the misstep and did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.
On July 30 Gucci followed up on one of its initiatives by appointing its first global head of diversity, equity and inclusion, Renée Tirado. In the role, Tirado will design, develop and implement global strategy to foster inclusivity and equality in the company’s workplace.
Burberry apologizes for insensitive noose sweater — February 2019
Burberry also suffered from an insensitive misstep during its fall 2019 rtw show, where a model was seen wearing a sweater with what appeared to be a noose around the neck.
The sweater sent social media into a frenzy immediately after the show, starting with a post from model Liz Kennedy on Feb. 17 who posted a series of pictures of the sweater with a caption directed at the brand and its chief creative officer, Riccardo Tisci.
“Suicide is not fashion,” she wrote. “Riccardo Tisci and everyone at Burberry, it is beyond me how you could let a look resembling a noose hanging from a neck out on the runway. How could anyone overlook this and think it would be OK to do this, especially in a line dedicated to young girls and youth.”
In a statement, Tisci apologized for producing the sweater. “I am so deeply sorry for the distress that has been caused as a result of one of the pieces in my show on Sunday,” he stated. “While the design was inspired by a nautical theme, I realize that it was insensitive. It was never my intention to upset anyone.”
The sweater was removed from the collection and Tisci stated he would make sure this kind of misstep wouldn’t happen again. He later elaborated on his apology on his Instagram account on Feb. 22, posting a photo of the quote, “I listen, I learn, I improve and I believe in the power of love.”
“I am a man of my principles and I take my responsibilities seriously,” he wrote in the caption. “I am committed to learn from this so that this never happens again. Those who know me well or who know my work will understand that any references I have used in my collections have never been driven by negativity.”
Marco Gobbetti, Burberry’s ceo, also released an apology, stating the company is “deeply sorry for the distress caused by one of the products that featured in our fall 2019 collection, ‘Tempest.’ I called Ms. Kennedy to apologize as soon as I became aware of this on Monday and we immediately removed the product and all images that featured it.”
Louis Vuitton condemns abuse amid Michael Jackson documentary — March 2019
Louis Vuitton was embroiled in controversy following its fall 2019 men’s wear collection inspired by Michael Jackson, who was the subject of HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland,” which documented the child sexual assault allegations against the late musician.
The brand’s men’s wear show debuted on Jan. 17, more than a week before the documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, but many took great offense to Louis Vuitton’s homage to Jackson’s legacy.
Virgil Abloh, men’s artistic director for Louis Vuitton, issued a statement exclusively to WWD on the backlash the brand received, stating: “I am aware that in light of this documentary the show has caused emotional reactions. I strictly condemn any form of child abuse, violence or infringement against any human rights.”
Chairman and ceo Michael Burke also added: “We find the allegations in the documentary deeply troubling and disturbing. Child safety and welfare is of utmost importance to Louis Vuitton. We are fully committed to advocating this cause.”
The brand also stressed that it was unaware of the documentary ahead of the men’s show.
“My intention for this show was to refer to Michael Jackson as a pop culture artist,” Abloh continued. “It referred only to his public life that we all know and to his legacy that has influenced a whole generation of artists and designers.”
Louis Vuitton also stated that it would not produce any items from the collection “that directly features Michael Jackson elements” and that the items sold will “purely reflect the true values of the brand and of our artistic director.”
Jeffree Star’s makeup warehouse robbed of $2.5 million worth of products — April 2019
Beauty vlogger and brand founder Jeffree Star is no stranger to drama, having mixed himself in some of the year’s biggest influencer scandals. But the beauty influencer, who is behind Jeffree Star Cosmetics, made headlines himself on April 2 when he posted a video to his YouTube channel revealing that his makeup warehouse was robbed of “thousands of boxes” of beauty products, totaling in a loss of more than $2.5 million.
“I haven’t told anyone this yet, just me, my team and my family know,” he said in the 16-minute video. “Two weeks ago, the morning of March 15, I uploaded the reveal video for the Blue Blood collection. That night at around 1 a.m. one of my stock and shipping facility warehouses was broken into and over $2.5 million worth of products were stolen from me.”
Star claims that among the products stolen was a complete shade of his upcoming Magic Star Concealer, which hadn’t yet been officially released. Star began working with investigators and the FBI to look into the robbery, and ultimately discovered that the stolen products were being sold online through back channels.
He then goes on to speculate that the robbery was an inside job, considering the burglars targeted a low-security warehouse and entered the facility through its roof. Star also claimed that the robbery is linked to a group of black market makeup dealers, referencing a robbery of $4.5 million worth of Anastasia Beverly Hills products from 2017. The two robberies, though, have not yet been linked to each other.
Despite the leak, Star ultimately went ahead and released the Magic Star Concealer on April 19. He did not respond to request for comment in August on an update to the robbery investigation.
Jaclyn Hill cosmetics recall — May 2019
Jaclyn Hill is one of the biggest global beauty influencers with more than 5.9 million YouTube subscribers and 6.2 million Instagram followers, and her fans had been impatiently waiting for her cosmetics collection for years. But Hill’s line was not met with the success that she had anticipated.
After launching the brand on May 30 with a line of 20 nude lipsticks, customers quickly took to social media to share pictures of their products, many of which appeared to have tiny hairs, holes and round particles attached to the bullets.
As the pictures quickly went viral, many started claiming that the lipsticks were not safe to use and were unsanitary. Hill chimed in on the drama, with the brand releasing a statement on its Twitter account stating that a small batch of products were not blended thoroughly or were exposed to high temperatures, resulting in the abnormalities.
Other influencers, including @RawBeautyKristi and Marlena Stell, gave their two cents on the matter, with the latter claiming that Hill used a cosmetics lab known for producing defective products.
Less than a month after the brand launched, Jaclyn Cosmetics issued refunds to all of its customers and Hill subsequently deleted her social media accounts.
On July 23, she returned to her YouTube channel with a 19-minute video where she apologized to her customers and explained what the future of her brand will look like.
“I’ve wanted to create and own my own cosmetics brand since I worked at MAC Cosmetics at the Woodfield Mall in Chicago when I was 20 years old,” she said. “That’s always been my dream and that’s why this whole thing has been so hard for me because I completely failed. I say it every day and I still choke on those words.”
Hill explained that she did not hire a big enough quality control team to examine all of the lipsticks — causing the distribution of the faulty products — and puts blame on herself for being overly confident in the brand’s success. She goes on to state that she will relaunch the lipsticks and the other products in her production calendar with a new cosmetics laboratory.
After a social media hiatus, Hill revealed that she is relaunching the brand on Nov. 26 with a holiday collection of highlighters, pressed powders and brushes.
In an interview with WWD, Hill talked about relaunching the brand after the initial backlash, stating: “The first launch sucked, but everybody deserves a second chance. That was the first time I’ve ever done anything where it was me, my team, my brand and it wasn’t a collaboration and it did not go how it was planned to go. If people are upset about what happened the first time around and they don’t want to buy this collection, I totally understand. But I’m gonna keep going and proving myself.”
Kim Kardashian’s Kimono Shapewear brand — June 2019
It’s no doubt that Kim Kardashian has a midas touch with her beauty ventures — both KKW Beauty and KKW Fragrance earned $14.4 million each upon launch in 2017 — but she didn’t experience the same success when revealing he first fashion brand, a shapewear line called Kimono.
The brand, which carries shapewear apparel including bras, underwear and bodysuits in nine nude shades, was quickly met with backlash over its name, with many accusing Kardashian of cultural appropriation.
After swift social media backlash and an open letter penned by Daisaku Kadokawa, the mayor of Kyoto, asking her to drop the Kimono trademark, Kardashian announced that she will launch the brand under a new name, taking to her Twitter account to crowdsource ideas.
In August, Kardashian revealed she is renaming the brand Skims, which launched on Sept. 10.
Nike plus-size mannequin backlash — June 2019
In June, Nike introduced a plus-size mannequin at its Oxford Street store in London, which was received with mixed reviews by the public. While many applauded the move as a step toward inclusivity and body positivity, the praise was eclipsed by critics who claimed the mannequin promoted obesity and unhealthy eating habits.
The criticism reached fever pitch with the publication of a scathing Telegraph article on June 9 by journalist Tanya Gold, who stated the Nike mannequin is “immense, gargantuan, vast” and “heaves with fat.”
As Gold was met with her own backlash — with many on social media calling the article fatphobic and horrifying — former Nike head of global apparel, Mindy Grossman spoke out about the criticism against the brand’s plus-size mannequin.
“[I’m] angry because of those who are so misguided to say that having larger mannequins are contributing to obesity — seriously? — and resolute as I truly believe that what they are doing with their size expansion and visualization with their mannequins is exactly what is needed in our society,” she wrote on LinkedIn.
Grossman, who is now the ceo of WW International (formerly known as Weight Watchers), went on to write that while she was at Nike, the brand introduced a new mission: “To bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete” where athlete is defined as “if you have a body, you’re an athlete.”
Backlash against Related Cos.’ Stephen Ross — August 2019
Social media backlash was swift against Related Cos. chairman Stephen Ross, who hosted a fund-raiser for President Trump at his Hamptons home with tickets going up to $250,000 each on Aug. 9.
Many fashion designers, celebrities and others on social media expressed their outrage over Ross’ fund-raiser, taking aim at the many brands he’s behind, including Hudson Yards, Equinox and SoulCycle.
Along with the backlash, two designer brands — Prabal Gurung and Rag & Bone — pulled their upcoming spring 2020 shows for New York Fashion Week from Hudson Yards, with the former designer posting a 10-tweet thread expressing his disappointment in Ross’ support of the president following two mass shootings that took place in Texas and Ohio during the prior weekend, which many Democratic presidential candidates claimed were caused by Trump’s racist rhetoric.
Jewelry designer Dana Lorenz, who is behind the label Fallon, also reacted to the news, taking aim at Ross’ wife, fellow jewelry designer Kara Ross, who held a seat on the Council of Fashion Designers of America board. Lorenz took to her Instagram account to post an open letter to CFDA chairman Tom Ford and president Steven Kolb canceling her membership to the organization.
“After many years of membership, I will no longer participate if a woman [who] funds the current administration remains on the board,” she wrote. “I will no longer be a part of what seems to be allowing a pay for play, money over merit arrangement with someone [who] clearly wants to advance an agenda that is hurting many businesses large and small with this trade war.”
In response to the backlash, Equinox executive chairman Harvey Spevak wrote an e-mail to gym members on Aug. 15 that the company would be donating $1 million to a number of charities.
“The last week has been difficult for all,” he wrote. “I am sorry for the impact it has had on our community — and I’m sorry we haven’t said more. We have not been ignoring the situation. I have been in our clubs listening to our teams and members. I really appreciate the open and honest feedback I received.”
Givenchy, Coach and Versace embroiled in China fashion controversy — August 2019
Amid protests in Hong Kong, a number of luxury fashion brands have come under fire for marking the region as its own country on its merchandise and web site.
Givenchy, Coach and Versace have each been criticized for releasing T-shirts that many have found offensive to Chinese sovereignty, causing many high-profile China spokesmodels to cut ties with the brands. The T-shirts in question show a list of cities followed by their respective countries, but Hong Kong is listed as its own country instead of part of China. Additionally on Coach and Givenchy’s T-shirts, Taipei is listed as “Taipei, Taiwan.”
Models Liu Wen and Wang Mi have both terminated their newly minted contracts with Coach and Versace, respectively, because of the controversy, and actress Guan Xiaotong and musician Jackson Yee have both distanced themselves from the fashion brands. Xiaotong was featured in the Coach spring 2019 campaign and Yee was a brand ambassador for Givenchy’s beauty line.
Many have taken offense to this because Hong Kong was formerly ruled by the U.K. for a decade before handing the region back to China in 1997. Hong Kong has since been regarded as a special administrative region that runs under the “one country, two systems” principle, allowing the region to have its own legal, government and financial affairs.
Taiwan is an autonomous island with Taipei as its capital. The region is viewed as a renegade province by Beijing.
All spokesmodels have spoken out about the controversy on Weibo criticizing the brands for their missteps. On Aug. 12, Wen wrote: “At all times, China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must not be violated. Because of the inaccuracy of the brand I chose and the hurt it has brought to everyone, I apologize to everyone here. I passionately love my mother country and safeguard China’s sovereignty.”
Givenchy, Coach and Versace have all issued apologies on Weibo. Donatella Versace herself also posted an additional apology to her Instagram account, stating: “I am deeply sorry for the unfortunate recent error that was made by our company and that is being currently discussed on various social media channels. Never have I wanted to disrespect China’s National Sovereignty and this is why I wanted to personally apologize for such inaccuracy and for any distress that it might have caused.”
Elle Germany releases “Back to Black” issue – October 2019
Elle Germany was embroiled in controversy after the release of its “Back to Black” November issue, which featured a photo of a white model on its cover.
Inside the issue, the magazine includes a spread called “Black is Back,” featuring images of six black models with the text: “never before have models of color been in greater demand than they are now. But these great women also inspire us off the runway.”
Adding to the controversy, model Naomi Chin Wing is misidentified in the spread as Janaye Furman.
After social media backlash from Naomi Campbell, Garage Magazine fashion director, Gabriella Karefa-Johnson and fashion watchdog, Diet Prada, among others, Elle Germany editor-in-chief Sabine Nedelchev released an apology on Instagram for the issue, stating: “it was a mistake to use the cover line, ‘Back to Black,’ which could be understood as if black persons would be a kind of fashion trend. This obviously wasn’t our intention and it was our mistake not to be more sensitive about this.”
The statement also contained an apology for misidentifying Chin Wing. The model did not speak out about the magazine issue, however, Furman posted a video on Instagram where she sips a cup of tea, captioned with a tea cup and frog emoji and #blackisback.
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