The word "exotic" is not an inherently bad word.
As the definition for this adjective states; "originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country."
Why then do some fashion and beauty brands insist on using it to describe aesthetics that are not typically Eurocentric? Or to validate the beauty of people of colour?
Pop singer Katy Perry is no stranger to being a bit culturally tone-deaf and this time, it's her latest shoe collection with "exotic designs" that has us side-eyeing this description as well as the shoes in question.
Even more concerning is the black pair of shoes that resembles blackface imagery, as the facial features embellished on each shoe type look even more exaggerated against the black leather slipper.
Remember those Prada monkey-like keychains that got pulled for racist imagery and got called out by their namesake Instagram account, Diet Prada?
Well this pair of blackface shoes is a pretty similar disaster waiting to happen.
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Woke up on the morning of our fourth birthday to some news about our namesake @prada . The “Pradamalia” collection, produced in collaboration with @2x4inc , features fantasy “lab-created” animals. According to a press release about the collab, the creatures mix up the codes of the house into their features. Many are comparing "Otto", a resulting mutation of one of Prada's oldest mascots, the monkey, to Little Sambo, a children's book character from 1899, who exemplified the pickaninny style of blackface caricature, though other examples from as early as 1769 can be found. The exaggerated stereotypes propagated racism freely back then, but it's apparent that the legacy of the harmful imagery still affects how we contextualize racism today. This is surprising from Prada, who's known (at least recently) for the inclusivity of their casting, propelling then unknown models like Anok Yai and Jourdan Dunn into near supermodel status...not to mention casting Naomi Campbell in that 1994 campaign at a time when it was generally deemed "risky" to cast people of color in international luxury campaigns. Recently, they mounted "The Black Image Corporation", an exhibition highlighting the importance and legacy of black creators in American publishing and photography, in both Milan and Miami. Representation is important, but understanding how to navigate the nuances of how the world perceives racism is even more so. One thing is pretty clear though...given recent scandals, luxury brands operating on a massive global scale need more systems in place to avoid controversies like this. A suggestion for now: more diversity on a corporate level for positions that actually hold power in decision making and brand imaging. Prada issued a swift apology on twitter and are in the process of removing the products from display and sale, but no mention on Instagram yet. Dieters, chime in with your thoughts! • Source: Chinyere Ezie via Twitter (@ lawyergrrl) • #prada #blackface #littlesambo #retailproblems #retaildisplay #soho #nyc #dietprada
This new shoe collection does not yet appear on the Katy Perry Collection social media accounts, where the star's quirky footwear is usually showcased. Could it be that her team is anticipating some kind of backlash?
There's no telling just yet, but what we can say is that the description "exotic" in the context of beauty and fashion is problematic, as it is a form of othering based on the false notion that there is only one acceptable standard of beauty or art.
Furthermore, it portrays a complete disregard for the culture from which you drew inspiration from when you call the work you've produced "exotic", á la Katy Perry.
Quantico actress Priyanka Chopra has even addressed this before in an interview addressing colourism in India and the complexities of being an Indian actress in Hollywood.
"When somebody else calls you exotic, exotic is a box — it’s the stereotype of snake charmers and face jewelry," the actress reportedly said. "You’re just that stereotype."
As a result, the racist undertones of this term can also not be ignored, so for as long as major brands or even celebrity collections use it to market their merchandise, the internet will not hesitate to ask a few fiery questions.
In the meantime, the banter on Twitter is top tier as usual:
What are your thoughts on the term "exotic"? Do you think it's ever an appropriate compliment? Tell us here.
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