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In a company letter obtained by Fashionista, designer Alessandro Michele apologized for the controversial sweater that was critcized for its resemblence to blackface. The $890 piece featured an oversized turtleneck collar with bright red lips framing a cutout for the mouth. The Italian fashion house pulled the piece from shelves last week amid calls for a boycott; black creators like Spike Lee, T.I., Soulja Boy, and Gucci collaborator Dapper Dan have condemned the label over the design.
On Tuesday, Michele issued a personal company-wide letter in which he said it was important to take responsibility for the offense the sweater has caused. He also insisted that the design did not a reference to minstrelsy, but rather a nod to the legendary 1980s club kid Leigh Bowery.
"The fact that, contrarily to my intentions, that turtle-neck jumper evoked a racist imagery causes me the greatest grief," the creative director wrote. "But I am aware that sometimes our actions can end up with causing [sic] unintentional effects. It is therefore necessary taking full accountability for these effects."
Michele also referenced Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri's recent internal memo, which announced the implentation of various programs to "facilitate an increase of different communities within the creative office."
You can read Michele's full letter below.
I feel the need to write you all these few words to give a name to the pain of these days: my own and that of the people who saw in one of my creative projects an intolerable insult.
It's important for me to let you know that the jumper actually had very specific references, completely different from what was ascribed instead. It was a tribute to Leigh Bowery, to his camouflage art, to his ability to challenge the bourgeois conventions and conformism, to his eccentricity as a performer, to his extraordinary vocation to masquerade meant as a hymn to freedom.
The fact that, contrarily to my intentions, that turtle-neck jumper evoked a racist imagery causes me the greatest grief. But I am aware that sometimes our actions can end up with causing unintentional effects. It is therefore necessary taking full accountability for these effects.
For this reason our company immediately apologized and withdraw the garment that produced such controversies. As you may have read from Marco in his letter, we are putting in place a series of immediate actions across the world that will increase inclusivity, diversity, participation and cultural awareness at any level and in any workplace. We are truly committed in facing what happened as a crucial learning moment for everybody.
I've always fought to grant myself and any other the possibility to be different. I've hardly been through this fight all over my personal life and I later brought it into my work. Here I always tried to give citizenship's right to the traditionally marginalized, to those who felt unrepresented, to those that history silenced or made believe they were worthless.
My aim, in which personal and political are intimately interwoven, has always been to turn the pain into a chant. Therefore I've always worked to let alternative imageries loaded with joyful inclusion emerge. Imageries able to celebrate diversity in every form. Imageries able to favour empowerment and self-determination processes. This is who I am and these are the things I believe in.
I really shelter the suffer of all I have offended. And I am heartfully sorry for this hurt. I hope I can rely on the understanding of those who know me and can acknowledge the constant tension towards the celebration of diversity that has always shaped my work. This is the only celebration I'm willing to stand for.
Gucci isn't the only fashion company to face a blackface scandal. Prada was previously blasted for a collection of accessories that resembled the Sambo caricature, and Katy Perry's fashion label has recently discontinued a footwear design that also evoked racist imagery.