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17th October 2012

Dolce and Gabbana SS13: It’s just heritage, right?

Faye Howard gives her opinion on the recent controversy surrounding the Italian designers’ latest collection

Dolce and Gabbana have ruffled the feathers of the fashion world during the premier of their ‘controversial’ SS13 collection at Milan fashion week last month.  Beady-eyed observers were quick to jump down the throats of the design house after they sent plastic earrings, resembling ‘Blackamoor statues’ and ‘Old Aunt Jemima dolls’ (post-colonial iconography, if you didn’t know) down the catwalk.  Critics branded the collection ‘offensive’ and in the harshest case, a ‘romanticism of slavery and plantation life’, suggesting the two Caucasian designers had created a ‘clueless colonial look’.

For many years, Sicily (the homeland of Dolce and Gabbana) has been the inspiration behind many a collection, with the designer’s beautiful, intricate and sometimes zany designs living and breathing the infamous duo’s Italian roots.  Claiming the collection to be in no way racist, Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabbana took inspiration from their Italian heritage combined with a summer holiday theme to create the brightly coloured, hessian constructions, utilising imagery of Moorish statues (the controversial black faces on the earrings) and historic prints of battlefields on dresses. A racist and politically incorrect slip-up? Possibly not.

The question is, was this really a step too far in the ‘la-la-land’ and possibly ignorant world of fashion? Or is this just simply a step too far for the nit-picking critics who are constantly snooping for controversy in today’s ‘strictly PC’ media? Was the fashion press just slow that day?  Either way, I find myself delving into the land of the unknown, to the point where I am questioning my own political correctness, and dare I say views, on racism within fashion.  Is it absurd to think people could just look upon the collection as a beautiful creation, concept and celebration of a country’s heritage and culture, without jumping on the racism bandwagon?  Moreover, is it completely bonkers to conclude that if we are questioning the use of black people in fashion and design as being immediately racist, then we ourselves are actually the racist ones?  I know for certain that if we saw these earrings on the ears of Naomi Campbell, we wouldn’t think twice other than this was an ‘out-there’ fashion statement.

Is that then the problem?  Had there been at least one black model used in the show, would the critics have been pacified? Milan is well renowned for having a distinct lack of non-white models on their catwalks, and one could indeed argue, that it was actually the deliverance of Dolce and Gabbana’s show that did not sit well on first look at this ‘conceptual’ collection. There were 85 looks showcased, yet there were no black models represented on the runway.  Surely this wasn’t a good idea if they were truly interpreting the multi-cultural heritage they set out to? Either way, I feel that anyone who criticised this collection for having connotations of ‘slavery’ and ‘years of oppression’, should take a good, hard look at the bigger picture. There are obviously bigger issues we have to deal with here, and they do not start with a pair of earrings.

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