A fashion model’s career as an object of beauty usually revolves around them being seen and not heard. This is especially the case with newer models just starting out, but recently during London Fashion week, up and coming model Liz Kennedy called out the legendary Burberry fashion house for a sweatshirt hoodie she modeled. The hoodie featured a noose-knotted tie draw string around the neck, which did not sit well with the up and coming supermodel.
According to a report by CBS news, Liz Kennedy had raised concerns backstage telling fashion directors that nooses around necks coming down the runway had harmful implications. The fashion show itself was dedicated to young girls and youth. This concerned Kennedy even more, given her own personal family history dealing with youth suicide.
Now when I first read this story a couple of days ago, it was right at the height of the Jussie Smollett scandal in which a noose, with it’s distinct 400 year identity as a racially motivated tool for the terrorization and murder of black people, was front and center. For me, with ancestral slavery roots going back to the 1700s in this country, the mere mention of a noose, let alone the presence of one gives me a visceral reaction of anger, fear, and sadness, so I can relate to Liz Kennedy and her attempts to alert the Burberry Fashion Gods of their potential faux pas. Apparently she tried, to no avail.
Over the years we have seen fashion brands make questionable choices in their collections; things that have triggered massive backlash. We can look to examples such as the Adidas ankle chain shackle, high top sneaker, Prada’s big, red-lipped, black monkey icon collection, and the more recent Gucci debacle which featured a luxury turtle neck sweater (it only came in black). This black sweater covered nearly the entire face when pulled up and was complete with a mouth opening with exaggerated big red lips. All of these items were ultimately pulled from the shelves after the public outrage was evident and the brands offered up apologies for their insensitivity.
I don’t work in fashion, but it seems like such an easy thing to avoid adding nooses and blackface references to a product line. Yet, fashion houses continue to make this grave error and some often speculate its on purpose – all for publicity. I personally don’t subscribe to the notion of “any publicity is good publicity," especially as luxury brands today must rely upon a varied, culturally diverse, buying demographic with respect for everyone.
In model Liz Kennedy’s situation, she reportedly became alarmed and angered by seeing fashion stylists backstage at the Burberry fashion show, hanging the hoodies from rafters by the noose and making improper jokes about it. She then complained before the show but claims to have been told to “write a letter” and “its fashion. Nobody cares about what’s going on in your personal life so just keep it to yourself”. After the show was over, she made the bold and possibly career-ending move of taking the complaint to social media.
She posted to instagram: “Suicide is not fashion,” she wrote. “It is not glamorous nor edgy. … [chief creative officer] Riccardo Tisci and everyone at Burberry it is beyond me how you could let a look resembling a noose hanging from a neck out on the runway. How could anyone overlook this and think it would be okay to do this especially in a line dedicated to young girls and youth?” As the pressure mounted, the brand released a statement saying they had not intended to offend and the knot was simply a part of their nautical theme.
Still, the backlash prompted the hoodie’s removal from their catalog as the brand’s CEO, Marco Gabbetti offered a personal apology to Kennedy, and an apology to the public for Burberry’s perceived insensitivity pertaining to the matter of suicide. The Creative Director Riccardo Tisci also apologized: "While the design was inspired by a nautical theme, I realize that it was insensitive," the designer said in a statement to CBS News.
Burberry’s corporate responsibility is to be commended in addressing the matter promptly. However, as I look at the overall situation, as an African American I must admit that I did not perceive the hoodie string to be a noose. To me it just looked like a creative knot of some kind. I don’t speak for the more than 48,000,000 African Americans in the country, but it should be noted that there was almost no initial reaction to this story from the African American community as a whole.
So, that made me ponder, are we all just living in hyper-sensitive times, easily offended by things because of our own personal experiences? And if that is the case, we must ask ourselves in some situations, have our “offenders” actually done anything offensive at all?
Check out more from the outspoken up and coming fashion model on Instagram!
This piece is an opinion piece by one Contributing Writer for Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of the magazine or other Contributing Writers.