Burberry has apologized in light of widespread outrage after an image of a model, wearing a decorative noose, made the rounds online.
The collection, called “Tempest,” is [Burberry’s chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci’s] second for the brand. The clothes were a mix of classic, severely tailored ensembles to more trendy street-inspired looks aimed at younger consumers.
Liz Kennedy, a model in the London Fashion Week show, lashed out over the accessory on Instagram:
View this post on Instagram
@burberry @riccardotisci17 Suicide is not fashion. It is not glamorous nor edgy and since this show is dedicated to the youth expressing their voice, here I go. 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. The impressionable youth. Not to mention the rising suicide rates world wide. Let’s not forget about the horrifying history of lynching either. There are hundreds of ways to tie a rope and they chose to tie it like a noose completely ignoring the fact that it was hanging around a neck. A massive brand like Burberry who is typically considered commercial and classy should not have overlooked such an obvious resemblance. I left my fitting extremely triggered after seeing this look (even though I did not wear it myself). Feeling as though I was right back where I was when I was going through an experience with suicide in my family. Also to add in they briefly hung one from the ceiling (trying to figure out the knot) and were laughing about it in the dressing room. I had asked to speak to someone about it but the only thing I was told to do was to write a letter. I had a brief conversation with someone but all that it entailed was “it’s fashion. Nobody cares about what’s going on in your personal life so just keep it to yourself” well I’m sorry but this is an issue bigger than myself. The issue is not about me being upset, there is a bigger picture here of what fashion turns a blind eye to or does to gain publicity. A look so ignorantly put together and a situation so poorly handled. I am ashamed to have been apart of the show. #burberry. I did not post this to disrespect the designer or the brand but to simply express an issue I feel very passionate about.
“Suicide is not fashion. It is not glamorous nor edgy,” she wrote before revealing her concerns were dismissed at the show.
“How could anyone overlook this and think it would be okay to do this especially in a line dedicated to young girls and youth,” Kennedy continued on Instagram, “Let’s not forget about the horrifying history of lynching either. There are hundreds of ways to tie a rope and they chose to tie it like a noose completely ignoring the fact that it was hanging around a neck.”
Twitter users—including celebrities, journalists and public figures—criticized the fashion misstatement:
Gucci: You can't do worse than our black face sweater
Burberry: Hold my beer https://t.co/2qd7rzLmPn
— Rhiannon Walker (@InstantRHIplay) February 19, 2019
I am a big fan of Burberry, but this is unbelievable. How do people not THINK. Huge props to Liz Kennedy, a model in the same show (so an even braver decision) for calling this out. It is not ok. https://t.co/DuKTpKxSQU pic.twitter.com/u6GqjQXBct
— Hannah Jane Parkinson (@ladyhaja) February 19, 2019
This @Burberry noose hoodie was sent down the runway recently during the Burberry show during 2019 London Fashion week. It was put out but they have now apologized and withdrawn it. However, it shows the insensitivity & bias in the fashion world pic.twitter.com/XxTI1hp2Qr
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) February 19, 2019
Burberry saying they're "deeply sorry for the distress caused [by thinking it was fashionable to hang a noose thru a hoodie, around a model's neck]" AFTER multiple people involved raised concerns IN THE MOMENT but the piece was still put out on the runway, is what we've come to.
— Elisa Doucette (@elisadoucette) February 19, 2019
Burberry thinking it’s a good idea to make a hoodie with a NOOSE AROUND IT?! I mean Jesus. Howwww did they THINK this was gonna go down?!?
— Chris D'Elia (@chrisdelia) February 19, 2019
Hey, fashion people. I'm just an unstylish comedian who doesn't know anything, but maybe lay off the black face and nooses for a while? This is starting to feel like some weird bet about who can go out of business the fastest https://t.co/42nVvzM3C4
— Whitney Cummings (@WhitneyCummings) February 19, 2019
On Tuesday, Burberry’s chief executive issued a mea culpa, saying the company was “deeply sorry” and that both the product and photos of it had been removed.
“We are deeply sorry for the distress caused by one of the products that featured in our A/W 2019 runway collection Tempest,” said Burberry CEO Marco Gobbetti in a statement provided to Fortune. “I called Ms. Kennedy to apologize as soon as I became aware of this on Monday and we immediately removed the product and all images that featured it. Though the design was inspired by the marine theme that ran throughout the collection, it was insensitive and we made a mistake. The experience Ms. Kennedy describes does not reflect who we are and our values. We will reflect on this, learn from it and put in place all necessary actions to ensure it does not happen again.”
Tisci also apologized and claimed he didn’t realize that the accessory might offend viewers.
… “I am so deeply sorry for the distress that has been caused as a result of one of the pieces in my show on Sunday.”
“While the design was inspired by a nautical theme, I realize that it was insensitive. It was never my intention to upset anyone. It does not reflect my values nor Burberry’s and we have removed it from the collection. I will make sure that this does not happen again,” he added.
Aside from the two statements, the fashion company has avoided commenting. Burberry’s Twitter account has several pictures from the fashion show, but no statement or apology.
Though the apologies came soon after criticism grew, several Twitter users accused Burberry of intentionally instigating criticism to grab headlines and social media attention:
It’s no way in hell Burberry thought a noose was was not insensitive. pic.twitter.com/Vb0Dn2PE87
— BallerAlert (@balleralert) February 19, 2019
Gucci last week.
Now Burberry this week.
All of these racist fashion trends during #BlackHistoryMonth isn't a coincidence.
They are begging for relevance.
Ask yourself when was the last time Burberry trended worldwide?
Just shop from talented Black designers.
— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) February 19, 2019
I usually "attribute to incompetence rather than malice," but Burberry has me wondering if maybe some high end brands are actually deliberately trying to brand themselves as for-White-people-only-and-therefore-better when they release-and-promptly-drop a blatantly racist product.
— Rachel (@dromitgrrl) February 19, 2019
Whether or not Burberry’s failed fashion accessory was an deliberate call for attention, communicators should avoid similar decisions. In crises such as this, “All publicity is good publicity,” will probably not ring true.
Crisis communications expert and chief executive of 5W Public Relations Ronn Torossian wrote in a previous PR Daily article:
In today’s marketplace of ideas, if you put out a product that appears racist, you are going to “earn” some media.
If you believe the old saw “all media coverage is good media coverage,” offending your market base and having to pull a product you already paid to manufacture and ship might “work” for you. However, if you believe in developing a positive customer relationship and nurturing your buyers into engaged fans, you may want to avoid enraging them.
Otherwise, you might end up spending up all your earned media time apologizing.
Burberry’s catwalk misstep is the latest in a string of crises for fashion designers.
In November, Dolce & Gabbana apologized and pulled its Shanghai fashion show after Chinese consumers lashed out at its add, which many called racist. In December, Prada issued a mea culpa and removed “blackface” figurines after criticism grew. Earlier this month, both Gucci and Katy Perry apologized and removed products that quickly drew negative reactions for playing on blackface designs.
PR Daily readers, what do you think of Burberry’s response?