Black Leather, Black Feathers, and Blackface: Milan Fashion Week 2015

MILAN, ITALY – FEBRUARY 24: A model walks the runway during the ‘Next Generation: Claudio Cutugno’ Show as part of Milan Fashion Week FW2015 on February 24, 2015 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Milan – historically second only to New York and Paris – is home to one of the most anticipated fashion weeks in the world. For Fall/Winter of 2015, big hits include large print florals, suede, transparents, gingham, 1970s-inspired looks, and flourishes. By no surprise, the well-known names like Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, and Prada delivered incredible collections, as well as most other lines. But the most talked about collection goes to Claudio Cutugno for his modern take on blackface.

As the Italian designers models began their struts down the catwalk in elegant all-black gowns, the spectators noticed something wrong with the presentation: the models were in blackface. In American Civil War era theater, actors would paint their faces all black and ridicule the African American race, which came to be known as blackface. The faces of Cutugno’s models were covered in glittery black paint, which many took as a sign of disrespect. Cutugno, when asked to comment on the use of the makeup, stated that he did not know that his use of makeup would come off as disrespectful. He says that he used the makeup as a tribute to artist Emilio Isgro. Isgro’s art is generally composed of written works of others, but with certain words blacked out to create an entirely new meaning to the piece of writing. Cutugno’s model’s faces were supposed to be “blacked out” in order to “remove” them from the catwalk so that the clothing would take prescient to the viewers eye. It’s ironic that the models faces are now the only thing being remembered.
There is no question about it: the models were in blackface, but the intent of Claudio Cutugno was probably pure. Sure, he could have used black makeup as a publicity stunt, but would a designer risk smearing his entire career after making it all the way to Milan fashion week? As it remains, Cutugno is probably gaining a lot of fame from this ordeal, but he offended many people along the way. In his statement, he was remorseful: “I am extremely sorry if many people thought this make up would result offensive and also that I am racist, but that was not my intent. I am extremely respectful of the afroamerican culture and extremely sorry for each type of racism. Furthermore my inspiration was coming from a completely different idea which has nothing to do with the theme of afroamerican culture. I would have never [thought] someone could have find the makeup offensive, otherwise I would have never used it [sic].” While the models were clearly in blackface, but despite how ignorant Cutugno now seems, there was likely no malice behind his collection.
Words by Casey

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