Prada’s Problems with “Pradamalia”

The Italian fashion company, Prada, has a public relations crisis involving a winter collection called Pradamalia. It is a line of keychains, leather goods, cases, bags and jewelry design, consisting of seven tiny creatures which are a cross between hi tech biology and fantasy. There is a dog-Socks, aliens-Fiddle and Disco, a jellyfish-Scuba, a cat-Spot and monkeys- Toto and Otto. The products are made of leather, studs, printed lips, ombre colors and wood. According to Prada’s marketing department, they were meant to look like whimsical creatures in collaboration with NY company 2 by 4. The controversy started at the Prada flagship store in Soho, NYC, when well known civil rights, LBGQT and constitutional attorney, Chinyere Ezie, saw the monkey key chains in the window. Erie had just returned from D.C.’s Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. She went on Twitter and Facebook expressing her dislike for the monkey figures, saying they are racist and represent the concept of black inferiority. There is a comparison to black face, an old European tradition where Caucasians painted their faces black for comical theater. Ezie speaks of the book, “The Story of Little Black Sambo”, in which a black boy has his clothes eaten by tigers, but becomes a hero. The word, sambo, became a derogatory term towards black people. The recent expression of racism went viral, quickly sparking outrage. The brown colored monkeys with dramatic red or green lips have been pulled from the shelves along with the other animalia creatures due to the disapproval of the blackface resemblance. The area’s city councilman has spoken out and thinks Prada should donate money for racism awareness. This is similar to the reactions from recent Dolce and Gabbana chopstick ads and the H and M hooded sweatshirt ad with the logo; “the coolest monkey in the jungle” modeled by a black boy. There have been protests on social media,  but Prada states their intentions were not intending to be abhorrently racist, imitating black face or mocking “African” or black culture, but fantasy animals for a product line. Prada says they are sorry for any discrimination and racism with the products. Hopefully, the future will hold brighter days for the Milanese couture company. We should look at the way a company is held to ethics, cultural sensitivity and appropriate marketing standards. Did people, in this case, jump to conclusions about the monkey designs based on their first impressions, cultural knowledge, racial background and sensitivities. What is behind Prada’s thinking? The other animal characters are neutrally whimsical, so we are left wondering about the symbolism in regard to the monkey figures. 

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