The top executive at Italian luxury brand Gucci pleaded ignorance to knowing that his company could receive criticism over its sweater that resembles blackface—even though blackface is also controversial in Europe.
Marco Bizzarri, Gucci’s president and CEO, and the company’s creative director Alessandro Michele broke their silence on Tuesday about the blackface controversy that has engulfed the company, the Los Angeles Times reported.
After an avalanche of criticism last week, Gucci ended sales of its $890 balaclava black-knit women’s sweater that could be pulled up over the lower half of the wearer’s face. It featured signature bright red lips associated with blackface as a cut-out for the mouth.
Michele sent a letter to Gucci’s 18,000 employees from his personal e-mail address. He said that his turtleneck jumper was not intended to be racist.
“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 toward the celebration of diversity that has always shaped my work. This is the only celebration I’m willing to stand for,” his letter stated.
Bizzarri reiterated Michele’s regret and offered a classic excuse in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily.
“This is due to the ignorance of this matter,” the CEO explained.
That, however, was hard to believe because blackface controversies also exist in Europe.
In 2017, Italian comedian Gabriele Pellegrini, who goes by the stage name Dado, wore blackface in a performance that mocked African immigrants in Italy, Forbes reported. He dressed as a Black kebab seller—mimicking a broken foreign Italian accent—in his racist commentary on the influx of African migrants.
There’s also growing opposition in the Netherlands to Black Pete, the purported blackface assistant of Santa Claus who does the work of climbing down chimneys to deliver gifts. Much of the protest against Pete comes from Black residents who are forcing the Dutch to remember that their nation colonized people of color for more than three centuries and to acknowledge that the colonizer mentality persists.
To add insult to injury, Gucci’s garment was being sold at the start of Black History Month and against the backdrop of Virginia’s Democratic governor and attorney general admitting to wearing blackface in the 1980s.
“I am a Black man before I am a brand. Another fashion house has gotten it outrageously wrong. There is no excuse nor apology that can erase this kind of insult,” Dapper Dan said on Instagram. “The CEO of Gucci has agreed to come from Italy to Harlem this week to meet with me, along with members of the community and other industry leaders. There cannot be inclusivity without accountability. I will hold everyone accountable.”