Katy Perry apologizes amid blackface criticism over her shoe design

‘Our intention was never to inflict any pain,’ the singer says. The crisis is the latest in a string of high-profile missteps highlighting the need for diversity and sensitivity to racial stereotypes.

Katy Perry is the latest to issue a mea culpa for a fashion design that has elicited claims of racism.

The singer’s sandals and loafers feature a face made with metal appliques, and they include large blue eyes, a nose and exaggerated red lips. Though the design is on footwear of different colors, a product listing of the black shoes has caused backlash online and in headlines.

CNN reported:

The visage on the black shoes in both styles drew comparisons to blackface, the racist face-painting practice that started as a way for white performers to mock enslaved Africans in minstrel shows using black paint and exaggerated facial features.

Several Twitter users criticized the design, with tweets such as these:

The shoes also stoked debate, with some saying critics were reaching to find the shoes offensive:

As criticism rose and headlines appeared, Perry and Global Brands Group removed the shoes from its collection. Perry said she was “saddened” that the shoes were likened to blackface.

NBC News reported:

A representative for the singer told NBC News on Monday that the shoes were part of a collection that was released last summer in nine different shades (black, blue, gold, graphite, lead, nude, pink, red and silver) and were “envisioned as a nod to modern art and surrealism.”

“I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface,” Perry said. “Our intention was never to inflict any pain.”

Retailers also quickly pulled the shoes from their physical and online stores.

USA Today reported:

The shoes are available at major retailers such as Dillards, Forever 21 and Lord & Taylor. The label also is sold at retailers such as Macy’s, Zappos and Amazon but the shoes in question are not currently available on their websites.

CNN reported:

The sandal and the loafer were temporarily available on the Dillard’s website.

On Monday afternoon, images and descriptions of the shoes were replaced with the message, “This item is not available for internet purchase.” Dillard’s has not responded to CNN’s request for comment.

A Walmart spokesperson said these styles of Perry’s shoes were never available in brick and mortar stores.

The Guardian reported:

The sandals and loafers, designed with a face featuring prominent red lips, are no longer on sale at retailers including Walmart. A spokesperson for the company told TMZ: “In order to be respectful and sensitive the team is in the process of pulling the shoes.”

This is not the first time Perry has been criticized for a misstep related to culture or race.

The Guardian reported:

Perry has frequently been accused of cultural appropriation in the past, including for dressing like a geisha for an awards performance in 2013, and putting her hair in cornrows in the video for her single This Is How We Do. “I’ve made several mistakes,” she said in 2017. “I won’t ever understand, but I can educate myself and that’s what I’m trying to do along the way.”

Perry’s mea culpa follows a recent apology by Gucci, which came under fire for a balaclava top that many said evoked blackface.

USA Today reported:

The $890 sweater, from Gucci’s Fall Winter 2018 runway show, featured a turtleneck meant to be pulled up over the nose, with a red-lined cutout for the wearer’s mouth. Gucci apologized and removed the sweater from its physical and online stores.

In December, Prada also apologized and removed figurines that consumers compared to blackface designs.

In Gucci’s statement, the fashion brand said it “consider[s] diversity to be a fundamental value.” Yet, critics said that a lack of inclusion and diversity cause these PR and marketing crises.

Kim Crayton, founder of the #causeascene movement, tweeted:

A few celebrities have publicly taken a stand against Gucci and Prada, pressing them to achieve workplace diversity goals—not just say that they’re committed to them.

USA Today reported:

Director Spike Lee said last week he would boycott wearing Gucci and Prada until the brands hire some black designers following the fashion fails from the two major Italian fashion houses.

In an Instagram post pledging to hold fashion brands responsible for their decisions, Designer Dapper Dan wrote: “There cannot be inclusivity without accountability.”

In an article titled, “Blackface fashion is officially the worst fashion trend of 2019,” Quartz global lifestyle correspondent Jenni Avins wrote:

… While it’s entirely plausible that the shoes were not intended to offend or evoke racist imagery—they might very well have been inspired by Charlotte Olympia’s popular “kitty flats” or Picasso’s Cubist portraits—the misstep highlights an ignorance of cultural context and perhaps a lack of diversity among decision-makers. Styles for a collection as extensive as Perry’s are often reviewed by several designers, merchants, and buyers before they reach shelves. It seems someone along the way should have had the sensitivity, knowledge, and power to raise their hand and say, “about that red-lipped face on the black shoe…”

As Quartz’s Marc Bain recently wrote, “Brands are often rooted in one particular country and culture, which may be reflected in their hiring, but they’re also asking a global, diverse audience to buy their products. Those consumers are more empowered than ever, and brands are learning fast that they need to keep all of them in mind—from the way they design products right through the way they market them. If they don’t, the mistakes can be costly.

(Image via)


One Response to “Katy Perry apologizes amid blackface criticism over her shoe design”

    Emily says:

    If Kim Crayton’s proposed rule was applied and followed to its logical conclusion, then no white person would ever be able to depict a black person even in art. What would make the shoes any different from traditional African art? Why must a depiction of black face by a non-black person be automatically considered demeaning and an offense? It’s because a race war is being stirred up by the media. People are being *taught* to view anything that could *possibly* be construed in the wrong way with suspicion. This is ridiculous and sad.

      Ted Kitterman says:

      I think the bigger lesson here is to involve demographics in decision-making when the outcomes affect them. Blackface references aren’t that hard to avoid if marketers and pros take the time to consider and research their product offerings.

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