Prada has tapped “Selma” director Ava DuVernay and artist Theaster Gates to advise the Italian fashion house on diversity issues after the company released a holiday collection featuring blackface imagery.
In December, Prada faced backlash over its Pradamalia line, which included monkey-like figurines with black faces and large red lips. When civil rights attorney Chinyere Ezie spotted the products at a Prada store in Manhattan, she posted on Facebook that she was struck by how the items resembled blackface. The figurines left her “shaking with anger,” she wrote at the time.
After that post gained traction, Prada pulled the products and issued a statement, saying “we abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery.”
Now, Prada’s announcement about its diversity council comes amid more controversies in the broader fashion industry. Earlier this week, pop star Katy Perry’s namesake brand faced backlash for two shoe designs that resembled blackface, and last week, Gucci apologized for a black sweater that featured large red lips.
Prada said its advisory council, led by DuVernay and Gates, will work to “ensure that the fashion world is reflective of the world in which we live,” in addition to instructing the brand on hiring and creating opportunities for students of color.
Top designers in the fashion industry are predominantly white: Among the 495 members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, only 17 identify as black.
Prada is not the only fashion house seeking help with its image. After Gucci’s sweater controversy, the company met with fashion designer Dapper Dan, who, in an Instagram post, had demanded accountability.
Prada and Gucci’s recent missteps are a symptom of the growing disconnect between designers and consumers, branding consultant Kate Newlin told CNN. She also believes that the star status of top designers creates a culture within the brands where others are unable to question their ideas.
Ultimately, the impact of Prada’s diversity council will also depend on other details that the fashion house has yet to announce, including who else will join DuVernay and Gates and how long the council will meet, Pace University marketing professor Larry Chiagouris told CNN.
“They need to make sure that there is a greater level of sensitivity and awareness of what impact their products have on people’s perceptions of each other and social issues,” Chiagouris said. “That is going to require a lot of awareness raising and a little bit more oversight by the business people, who are in contact with the customers themselves.”
CNN Business’ Julia Carpenter contributed to this report.