Luxury fashion brand Gucci has apologised for selling a black balaclava jumper after social media users claimed it was racist.
The $890 (£686) jumper covered the lower half of the face and featured a red cut-out around the mouth area.
In a statement, Gucci confirmed that the jumper would now be removed from sale and apologised for any offense caused.
It said: “Gucci deeply apologises for the offense caused by the wool balaclava jumper. We can confirm that the item has been immediately removed from our online store all all physical stores. We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected, and at the forefront of every decision we make. We are fully committed to increasing diversity through our organization and turning this incident into a powerful learning moment for th Gucci team and beyond.”
Legal experts in the fashion industry have reacted to the apology from Gucci, suggesting that someone at the company “took their eye off the ball”.
Simon Bennett, partner at law firm Fox Williams, told Drapers: “The issue is not immediately a legal issue but more of a reputational one. However, such issues can have an impact on the value of a brand. Reputational damage caused by such actions, can diminish a brand owner’s ability to prevent third parties from associating the brand with other negative indicia. This makes brand enforcement more difficult and has a diluting effect on the exclusivity a luxury brand owner enjoys.”
Stephen Sidkin, another fashion lawyer at Fox Williams, told Drapers: “Some brands deliberately do things when it comes to advertising to get publicity and take the hit from the ASA [Advertising Standards Authority]. They do it to court controversy through court attention. Someone at Gucci took their eye off the ball. Someone didn’t think about the consequences of putting on to the market a particular piece, such as the sweater, which is almost guaranteed to result in a critical comment. Will it affect Gucci? In my mind there will be some countries where it will affect sales, including the UK and US.”
Alan Hunt, senior associate in the retail and fashion group at law firm Lewis Silkin, commented: “This is not the first time we have seen this kind of public response to brand campaigns and collections from major fashion houses. Most recently, Dolce & Gabbana who were accused of racism regarding their Chinese campaign and Prada of the same regarding a series of black monkey keychains with exaggerated red lips. And in each case, the public backlash is justified. Intentional or not, too often brands are quick to push products to market without taking a step back and considering both what needs to be achieved and how will it be perceived.
“Fashion is of course fast moving and this is an industry where there is pressure to deliver something new, every season, every time. But this should not be at the expense of undermining fundamental values important to us all.”