After causing an international uproar by sending what many deem to be racist imagery down their runway, Dolce & Gabanna have responded indirectly to the firestorm through their style blog Swide.
The Spring 2013 collection of the beloved fashion house included ‘Blackamoor’ or ‘Moorish’ symbolism in the form of the heads of black women used in dangling earrings and on the printed fabrics of dresses. For many observers, these iconic emblems of colonialism and slavery were reminiscent of an era of Western history most people are trying to forget. Despite this, Dolce & Gabanna tried to explain that for Sicilians these colorful echoes of Blackamoor decorative arts are merely part of the culture of their native land.
“You might have seen them in some villa or restaurant or hotel in Sicily, dominating the table: colourful head-shaped ceramic vases filled with beautiful flowers,” the article on Swide fancifully relates. “But like many things in Italy, they are more than what they seem.
“The head is inspired by Moorish features,” the explanation continues. “Moorish is a term used to define many peoples throughout history. Medieval and early modern Europeans applied the name to the Berbers, Arabs, Muslim Iberians and West Africans, although it has to be said that the term ‘Moorish’ has no real ethnological value. In Sicily’s case it defines the conquerors of Sicily. The first Muslim conquest of southern Italy lasted 75 years, from 827 to 902 AD.”
Despite this, the relationship between this use of black people in decorative arts and stereotypes such as Mammy, Sambo, and the dehumanizing Golliwogg doll cannot be denied. The use of people of African decent as fashionable accents is seen by most to be demeaning, particularly because the practice originated during an age when such people were considered inferior.
As The Huffington Post explains, Dolce & Gabbana might think all things ‘Moorish’ are festive, but — “the images are also seen as taboo, offensive and racially insensitive. The Mammy-looking figures recall a past of slavery and servitude that many don’t want to be reminded of — especially via a fashion statement.”
Whether the storied fashion house comes to accept that times have changed regarding this aesthetic remains to be seen.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.