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Marni SS20 flip flop racist campaign

Marni faces backlash for racist ‘jungle mood’ campaign

Featuring problematic imagery and equally problematic messaging

Marni is facing backlash for its newly-released flip-flop campaign, which features a number of Black models in problematic ensembles alongside a bunch of equally problematic statements. 

Unleashed on the world yesterday via Instagram, and spotted soon after by Diet Prada, the images depict models wearing a series of ‘ethnic’ items including woven grass hats, chunky wooden Bayong necklaces, and piles of bangles – none of which, noted DP, form part of the Italian label’s latest collection (go figure). 

Elsewhere, in a photograph that has since been deleted from Marni’s IG account, one model is photographed with large chains near to their feet, which, unless you look incredibly closely, resemble shackles. Another has their skin painted with clay patterns.

But just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it does. Finishing the whole thing off was an email send-out featuring a series of the images finished with statements reading “Jungle mood”, “Barefoot in the jungle”, and “Tribal amulet”(!) which are seemingly intended to convey the flip-flop campaign’s mood and themes, but instead serve to reinforce archaic racist and colonial stereotypes.

Surprisingly, the campaign was lensed by Afro-Braziliian photographer Edgar Azevedo, and art-directed by Giovanni Bianco, who is Brazilian-Italian. As Diet Prada put it in their own IG post: “Was something lost in translation? More context provided by the brand to explain the vision and collaboration with the photographer could have helped in this situation, but needless to say, the damage was done when the marketing team decided on those words.” The product shots of flip flops superimposed over the models don’t exactly help. 

In the post’s comments, people were quick to call out the brand, with some asking what percentage of Black people Marni employs, and others questioning how the campaign was signed-off and released. Seemingly, the brand isn’t paying too much attention to the backlash, given an image which features a white, jewel-encrusted flip-flop placed in front of a Black model alongside a caption reading “The adorned White Queen appeared compliant yet sculptural” remained on its own IG. Truly, the fashion industry never ceases to amaze.

Of course, it’s not the first time something like this has happened, with the language used reminiscent of that for the press notes of Valentino’s SS16 show – which was also condemned. Elsewhere, Gucci and Prada both faced backlash over racist products in 2018. In response, the labels set up diversity and inclusion boards, with Prada employees around the world also undergoing racial sensitivity training. With fashion currently facing a reckoning when it comes to dismantling the systemic racism that underpins the industry, it seems Marni could do to follow in their footsteps. 

UPDATE 30/7/2020: After removing all traces of the campaign from Instagram, Marni has issued a statement in which it apologises for the harm and offense the campaign caused, with Creative Director Francesco Risso also posting an acknowledgement on his personal IG account. Read the brand’s full statement and see Risso’s post below.

“What was intended to be a campaign that celebrated the beauty of the Afro-Brazilian culture through the lens of Brazilian photographer Edgar Azevedo had the opposite impact. Our oversights across the review process are unacceptable – and for that we are incredibly sorry.

The team at Marni is passionately committed to championing equity and celebrating the beauty of diverse cultures throughout the world. As we endeavor to create a more equitable world, through fashion and shared humanity, we sincerely regret that our efforts caused further pain. We have removed these images and we are redoubling our efforts to ensure our processes are carried out with thoughtfulness and intentionality through a strong equity lens. Our entire staff is committed to using this moment as an opportunity to leverage our platform to support and empower more voices and creators of color whose talent and insights are instrumental to creating a more inclusive and diverse fashion industry.”