Off Topic: Fashion Insiders’ “Disco Africa” Insensitive to Both History and Current Events

We're going to talk about something different this afternoon….


Over the weekend, fashion insiders such as Anna Dello Russo, Stephano Gabbana, Allesandro Dell'Acqua, celebrated Halloween at a party titled, “Disco Africa.” The stream of Instagram images started flooding fashion lovers around the globe #discoafrica #hallowood13 some of the costumes “tribal” inspired, while more than a few were straight out blackface.

I find it hard to talk about race, it's such a loaded topic. I am mixed race white and Native American (Squaxin Island, if anyone is interested) and was more than a bit miffed by the casting of Johnny Depp as “Tonto” (the Spanish word for “moron”) in the Lone Ranger.  Even though we are supposedly living in a “post racial era” the divide between are becoming more severe. As of this writing, none of the major US fashion news sites (other than Fashion Bomb Daily) had covered this party.

Do they think that because the party was held in Italy, that it's somehow not racist?

…0n October 3rd, 2013 more than 300 African migrants (including two pregnant women and three children) died in a shipwreck  off the coast of Italy

Do they not know of the problems specifically around African migrants Italy is having?  Just YESTERDAY Italian coast guards recused 700 migrants, and on October 3rd, 2013 more than 300 African migrants (including two pregnant women and three children) died in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy.

“Many [migrants] political asylum or are otherwise legally in Italy, but legal or not, the migrants are managed by a Mafia-run employment system, the caporalato, that operates like a 21st century chain gang.”

Do they not know that Africans (Eastern European) are used for Slave Labor by the mafia in southern Italy? According to Time, “Many have political asylum or are otherwise legally in Italy, but legal or not, the migrants are managed by a Mafia-run employment system, the caporalato, that operates like a 21st century chain gang.”

It's not only racist and insensitive because of the history of blackface, and the history of slavery,  and the history of imperialism, which is all terrible. It's insensitive to what is happening right NOW.

Maybe, to some it doesn't matter. It's just fashion after all, do we need to take it seriously? I'm not really sure…But in context of current events, this party in particular shows just how clueless the fashion industry can be.

What are your thoughts about this?

See more of these photos on Fashion Bomb Daily.

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21 Responses

  1. Katie


    This looks like it’s straight out of the past. It is 2013, and this should NOT be happening. Blackface is not okay, regardless it’s for fashion. We all know better.

    • Natasha Ndlovu

      EXACTLY ! I wrote about this incident on my blog

      People are quick to make excuses. Ok then let’s see someone dress as a Jew from the Holocaust and say “Oh well, we never were exposed to this because it didn’t affect our culture” or “I didn’t mean to offend anyone”. One person said EVERYONE knows about the Jewish struggle because of WWII. Oh, so when non-whites suffer, it doesn’t matter.

      Slavery was started by the Dutch, spread to certain parts of Europe onto America. Portugal (think Brazil) has a history with slaves, so please Europeans, don’t say it’s an AMERICAN thing because slavery is something the whole world is aware of in one form of another.

      These people were insensitive and knew what they were doing. They don’t care about black consumers. They would not DARE make fun of Asian culture, slanting their eyes like the Chinese and making “ching chong” noises because China is a wealthy nation buying into fashion BIG TIME and they would never bite the hand that feeds them. But oh no, when it comes to Africans, they don’t give a damn and that’s a fact !

      Stop trying to justify this RACIST nonsense !

  2. Juliana

    I guess some things said these days can be taken a bit more lightly and not deemed as downright racist, but I think this party is just going overboard. I don’t think the party-goers meant to be racist, but if any of my teachers or parents ever saw those pictures and knew about the party, they would be scolding them. I don’t think it’s okay at all and SHOULD be taken seriously. Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Jennine!

    • Claudio

      I’m Italian in Italy and wearing blackface and slave chains are offensive in many socially evolved European countries. Don’t take it personally but Italy is very, very, very old and insular country with antiquated views on women, other ethnicities, cultures.

  3. Noemi

    I’m Italian and yes, there’s racism here, but things are different. I don’t find offensive if somebody dresses (for a masked party) with curly wigs and paint his face with black or brown. We see things differently. I really don’t understand why this is considered so wrong or offensive (I read something about Julianne Hough). Maybe because we didn’t have the slavery like US. I remember that a couple of seasons ago (maybe) DG were accused to be racist because of some earrings, which are totally part of sicilian culture. And we’re having problems with all the emigrants arriving in Italy and Europe, but I don’t think that it’s up to Us people to judge because US is as strict as Italy (maybe even more) about the emigration from countries like Mexico.

    • Natasha Ndlovu

      You country has a history with Somalia / Ethiopia and they ARE AWARE of slavery even if they did not participate in it. This is disgusting !!!

      • Noemi

        But it’s not the same thing!! Many European countries “did” something like this, because of colonialism, but here we didn’t have slaves with chains at their feet working in our fields or serving at our tables, so we approach in a different way. It can be wrong at your eyes, but that’s how it is.

  4. Sandra

    Designers only get reprimanded when they make jokes or offensive slurs about the Holocaust. Everything else, is fair game.

  5. Q

    Thank you for this post…..
    As a woman of color I am offended by the blacken faces….. deeply so as I have such a love for fashion and it alongside music are the strongest tools we have too bring people together regardless of race, culture, creed and gender….
    What they did there was downright disrespectful…. would it be excusable to have a Nazi party and the host arrives dressed as Hitler???… there would be screams from the rooftops!….

    This NOT cool at all and it truly saddens me….

  6. Alysa

    this is disgusting. the first picture, especially. some people need to be educated about the history of blackface. it doesn’t really matter where in the world it’s happening, it’s still absolutely repugnant.

  7. ahhhsoneo

    I can almost tolerate the “blackface” since I know that in many cultures, it does not have the same significance as it does in the US. What I find totally shocking is the white man with chains around his neck. Slavery affected (and still affects) so many nations on earth, to make a joke out of someone in chains is unbelievable and distasteful.

    Things may be “different” in Italy, but we can still expect better.

  8. debiparna chakraborty

    this is stupid and insensitive and don’t tell me they did not know this was racist!! and thank you for pointing that out about Depp, even though I love the guy, i cannot believe how many tried to “justify” or ignore the matter uncomfortably.

  9. Khensani

    It doesn’t matter if “things are different in Italy” or if it was “just for fashion”. I think sometimes we tend to give things like art and fashion to much liberty when it comes to creative license that everyone assumes that something like black face, dressing up in chains (good God).
    Before anyone can say how they don’t this is offensive or that only Americans can get touchy because of their history of slavery should take a step back and look at the history of black face and what it has represented.
    Yeah, in the 19th century it was hilarious but it was also hilarious to rape women and plunder villages “in the name of God” so there is that.

  10. Mugo

    Am african and I find the slave chains really offensive. I think Italy is one of the most racist countries. We see it all the time during football matches and it sucks. People in that party thought its cool to paint their face black thats okay but the chains thats just plain stupid.

  11. CynthiaCM

    I think we need to look at things outside our North American bubble. Yes, it’s incredibly offensive in our eyes, but maybe in Italy, it’s just a costume…or maybe they don’t realize it’s seen as a bad/racist thing. Let’s look at it this way: A few years ago, my cousin from Hong Kong asked me if I wanted to have “Jap food” for dinner. I think a lot of things are shortened over there, so “Jap” just means Japanese. Being from Canada, I would NEVER call Japanese food, “Jap” food. There’s too much history here with internment camps, as it was in the US. I did correct her, since she was going to school in the US at the time, but she told me that she had no idea it was a bad word this side of the Pacific! Now she knows.

    • Noemi

      Being myself Italian, I had no idea about the word “Jap”. In fact we use it without problems, it’s a way to shorten the word Japanese, nothing else. A friend of mine, who frequently works with people from Japan sometimes call them “Jap” or “Jappi” (and Jappi is meant to be a nice word). I agree with you that you probably live in a bubble. I mean… in Italy there’s racism (I think it’s everywhere in the world, unfortunately) but I’m sure these people didn’t mean to be. In our country we’re not so “strict” about it, we’re very different from you Americans. For example, in Italy, if you swear on tv you are banned from tv shows (for good, more or less) because we have the Pope and no way it’s tolerated. Maybe in other countries is not the same.

  12. Lisa

    I did not realize that there was THAT level of ignorance out there, and from a bunch of adults no less.

  13. Candice Shaw

    This post just made me respect you a little bit more. I’m so over black face. I’ve dressed up as white characters for Halloween without painting my skin. Other races can do the same.

    • Lauren

      This sentiment exactly! Blacking up, chains…completely ignorant and wholly unnecessary.

      It’s not a US only issue, I’m English, black and find it repugnant.

  14. Kristina

    I’m Swiss and even if I’m aware of the tragic history of slavery & black people in the US AND the tragedies going on in Italy, the “blackface” was not a thing I knew about. Wikipedia helped, so now I really find it disgusting to disguise as such. But to paint a face completle dark and wearing a curly wig for a Halloween Party is ok, in my opinion. I really feel a diffrence between a blackface and someone diguising as a black person… Am I wrong?

  15. Chelsia

    Italy was part of colonizing some parts of Eastern Africa – Eritrea. The guy in chains is the best. Where else but from slavery can you get the idea of chaining another human being? I don’t think the manufacturer was thinking that it would be fashionable and that all the black people would like to wear it. No, that was a slaver.