Just When You Thought The Fashion Industry Didn’t Need To Learn More Lessons About Tone Deafness, Chanel Did This
Like many major institutions, the Fashion Industry has been accused in the past of gatekeeping and breeding a lack of diversity in its designers, models, and photographers. This lack of variety in the stories told by the industry has resulted in more than a few controversies in the recent past for some of the biggest names in fashion.
Brands like Gucci, Prada, and H&M have all seen major backlash after featuring products that were more than a little racist. Back in December of 2018, it was Prada with their Golliwog-like figures displayed in the windows of their SoHo boutique. Then there was H&M and their online page featuring a young, black child wearing a shirt that had the word monkey on it. Less than a month later it was Gucci in February 2019, with their sweater that — when pulled up — had the dark features and red lips of a blackface character.
These controversies caused more than a little public outcry when they happened. Either because of these instances or because they realized it was way past time, all three of these company’s created some sort of position to encourage diversity and inclusion in their organizations.
Now, it seems that Chanel has done the same but their hire has a major difference than others in the industry.
Earlier this month, Fiona Pargeter — who previously held the same position at Swiss bank UBS — joined Chanel as their Head of Diversity and Inclusion. Though Pargeter obviously comes with previous experience, she also lacks something that seems important in an inclusion director. Namely, she isn’t a member of one of the marginalized communities Chanel hopes to further incorporate.
According to a post on VOGUE, the role was created as “a sign of Chanel’s commitment and its importance to the house.” In an interview with THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, a Chanel representative elaborated on this new position. The statement read:
“Fiona Pargeter just joined the company in the position of head of Diversity and Inclusion to evolve our existing diversity and inclusion approach. Diversity and Inclusion has been led for a couple of years in our People and Organization function by our people communication and engagement leader. Fiona has been hired to continue to create momentum for our efforts. This recruitment is a sign of our commitment to these topics and its importance to the house.”
While the position doesn’t necessarily require the director of diversity and inclusion to be a minority, this appointment does raise some valid questions.
Was Pargeter the best person for the job based on her experience and skill and is that why she got the job or was it another example of failed diversification? Was her hiring a purposeful attempt to avoid tokenism and diversity hiring? Only the decision-makers at Chanel can speak towards that.
Can a white person honestly do a good enough job at reaching out to marginalized communities? Do they understand enough about the racism that Black and brown people face? Can they make a difference in the systems that oppress these communities? We aren’t sure but history has shown us that the only ones who create this kind of systematic change are people who have experienced the atrocities of said system themselves.
In response to Gucci’s controversy, streetwear designer Dapper Dan was tapped to lead a predominately black “Changemakers Council.” Additionally, the brand hired a Black Vice President of Brand and Culture Engagement, Antoine Phillips. Prada recruited director Ava DuVernay and artist Theaster Gates to co-chair the Diversity and Inclusion Council after their own backlash. Likewise, H&M made their own hires after their accusations of racism. Annie Wu was instated as Global Leader of Diversity & Inclusiveness for the company and Nigerian-American Ezinne Kwubiri was made the North American lead.
Can these Black people and people of color do a better job than Pargeter just because they understand the pain of racism? Possibly but we can’t say for sure.
Of course, Twitter had a lot to say about the Chanel hiring as well.
This Twitter user pointed out that Chanel’s response to too few Black people and POC in their company was to hire yet another white person. It almost reads like a bad joke when it’s put that way but it is exactly what the fashion company did in this situation.
There’s no telling how impactful this hire will prove for Chanel or other members of the industry but, in the meantime, we can vote with our dollars instead. Buy from Black and POC owned brands and know for sure that your money is going directly back into marginalized communities instead of systems that would further oppress them.