A former Versace employee is suing the luxury retailer, accusing the company of discrimination for its use of a secret code to alert staff and security when a black shopper is in the store. The former employee claims that a store in the San Francisco Bay Area where he was hired in September 2016 uses the code “D410” to communicate when a black shopper is in the store. (The code is also the brand’s label for a black shirt.) According to TMZ, the former employee was fired just weeks after he told the manager that he was African-American. Versace has denied the allegations, and has filed a request for dismissal of the suit.
Does this story sound familiar to you? It should because Versace isn’t the first well-known, high end brand or fashion designer who’s been accused of racism. Fragrance brand Bond No. 9 was also accused of allegedly using code language when Black customers entered the store. Allegedly, whenever a Black person popped into one of their stores, they told employees “We need the lightbulbs changed,” to cue them to be on high alert. A suit was filed by former employees but was eventually dropped.
Circa 1996, designer, Tommy Hilfiger, was accused of being racist. An email ‘chain letter’ was being circulated, claiming that Hilfiger allegedly said something alongthe lines of that had he known minorities were going to wear his clothes he wouldn’t have made them “so nice” and that he wished they wouldn’t wear them; and that he made an appearance on Oprah and stood by those statements. This rumor turned out to be false – Hilfiger had never even been on Oprah when the rumors started. He even went on Oprah in 2007 to put the rumors to rest.
In 2014, however, Hilfiger, did say that while hip-hop’s adoption of his clothing “fueled a lot of growth” for his label, he’s disappointed that the urban demographic “took us away from our roots.” If he had it to do all over again, he would “stick to my heritage and not chase trends.” So, is the word ‘urban’ a substitute for ‘black’? I’ll let you be the judge.
In 2013, former model and fashion insider Bethann Harrison (pictured above, center) sent out letters to the governing bodies of Fashion Weeks in New York, Paris, London, and Milan accusing racism on the runways. At the end of the letter, Hardison included a list of design houses that she felt consistently use one or no models of color. Donna Karan, Versace, Céline, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein, BCBG, Prada, and Chanel where just a few that were named.
More recently, rumors were circulating the internet in 2015 that Michael Kors had some not so nice things to say on Twitter. He was alleged to have said:
“I’m tired of pretending I like blacks…Just for the sake of a sale I have to deal with women like Nicki Minaj? I’d rather not. After all my fans made me money, It’s only fair I be honest and let them know how I really feel…I cant stomach the thought of my Michael Kors purses being stuffed with synthetic hair, weave or what ever else my fans are into.”
The tweets turned out to be fakes, and his camp has denied these allegations.
During this year’s NYFW, Marc Jacobs received major backlash and all the wrath of Black Twitter when the designer sent a group of predominantly white models down the runway wearing colorful faux dreadlocks in what many felt was a blatant appropriation of black culture. He responded to the backlash with this via his website:
“all who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race of skin color wearing their hair in a particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair”.
Can we just say that was like trying to put out a fire with gasoline? A few days later, he issued an apology on his Instagram page stating,
I apologize for the lack of sensitivity unintentionally expressed by my brevity. I wholeheartedly believe in freedom of speech and freedom to express oneself though art, clothes, words, hair, music … EVERYTHING. Of course I do “see” color but I DO NOT discriminate. THAT IS A FACT!”