BY CECILE BUSSY
Chanel just released the video of its new Spring/Summer collection, ‘Balade en Méditerranée’ — the Chanel Cruise 2020/21 collection imagined by Virginie Viard. The seven-minute long video includes one black and three white women. The black woman is pictured on camera for only forty seconds, while white models dominate the screen.
The video was posted after Chanel published a post about its strong commitment to racial diversity and inclusion. This was in response to the conversation about racism after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, U.S.A.
Killed during a police arrest, Floyd became a symbol of the racial discrimination inflicted on black people in the U.S.A. – and people of colour. Across the world, people demonstrated for equality of black people and it has become the prevailing conversation online.
The topic of race and diversity isn’t news in fashion luxury brands. Only 3% of members are black within the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Less than 10% of the designers at the New York Fashion Week 2018 were black.
Over the last few years, Black Live Matters and people of colour activists have called out brands for racial insensitivity.
In February 2020, Prada reached a settlement after being accused of racist imagery in their advertising and sale of products of their “Pradamalia” collection. It’s the Facebook post of Chinyere Ezie, the civil rights attorney that started the conversation about Prada’s black-faced collection:
Her statement received strong support online which led her to file a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission.
“When I spoke out about Prada’s blackface line one year ago, I feared that racism in fashion was just a bitter pill we collectively had to swallow,” said Ezie. “Now I know that speaking truth to power can lead to meaningful change.”
Prada’s controversial racist imagery collection was pulled out off the market. Luxury brands like Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana went through similar controversies. Prada’s case made a lot of noise in the luxury industry, compelling other luxury brands to design, promote and manage their products in a more inclusive way. Among the terms of the settlement, Prada was required to appoint a permanent diversity officer. Chanel did as well.
Fiona Pargerer became the Head of Diversity & Inclusion in Chanel in July 2019, after five years working on a similar role at UBS. Her previous experience suggests her capacity to occupy such a position, however, some would argue having a white person in charge of inclusion isn’t appropriate.
Reacting to the appointment of Jeffrey Siminoff as Twitter’s VP Diversity & Inclusion in 2015, Mark S. Luckie said to NBCBLK: “I wondered why Twitter would hire a white male in a very public diversity position. Jeffrey Siminoff has an impressive resume but for a company that is lacking in racial and gender diversity, it sends the wrong message to the public.”
The question of whether a white person should be in charge of bringing more diversity into a company was studied by Maura Cullen, diversity and inclusion author and founding member of the Social Justice Institute.
“If the job description of CDO (chief diversity officer) is to focus on racial issues, then I believe it is critical to have a person of colour in that position. However, if the job description extends beyond race and is more inclusive of other underrepresented populations, then the racial identity of the CDO would not be as critical,” she says.
If hiring a Diversity & Inclusion officer sends a strong message about a company’s commitment to inclusivity, they also need to follow up with action. Chanel may have appointed an experienced Head of Diversity and Inclusion last year, however, its latest advertising campaign remains dominated by white people.