Amid Boycott Threats, Gucci’s Creative Director Explains That Blackface Sweater

What was Gucci thinking? After an apology, the company’s top designer offers an answer

The recent furor over Gucci’s “blackface” sweater led a group of outraged celebrities—Waka Flocka Flame, T.I. , Russell Simmons, Spike Lee, designer Jerry Lorenzo, and fashion icon Dapper Dan—to rally against the brand and call for a boycott. Soulja Boy, who is in the process of getting the “Gucci” tattoo removed from his forehead, announced plans to give the millions of dollars worth of Gucci gear he’s purchased over the years to charity, proclaiming, “Gucci is done.” 50 Cent posted a video of himself burning a Gucci T-shirt and says he is donating his Gucci to the homeless.

In the opposite corner of the ring: Boxing champ Floyd Mayweather went out and allegedly dropped a fortune on Gucci goods in the wake of the scandal this past Monday. Fellow pugilist Adrien Broner told TMZ sports yesterday, “I don’t care it’s just a sweater.” And rapper Kodak Black agreed, publicly stating the controversial garment was “just a little ski mask—there’s all kinds of ski masks in the world.”

Gucci quickly issued an apology, promised to increase diversity within the company,  and pulled the $890 sweater from shelves. But one question persisted: How did the garment get greenlit in the first place?

The Italian brand’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, finally answered the question yesterday in an internal memo to company employees. Acknowledging the fracas the sweater had caused, he said it was meant to be a tribute to performance-art legend Leigh Bowery (pictured below), who was known for extravagant costumes and overstated makeup.

“It’s important for me to let you know that the jumper actually had very specific references, completely different from what was ascribed instead. It was a tribute to Leigh Bowery, to his camouflage art, to his ability to challenge the bourgeois conventions and conformism, to his eccentricity as a performer, to his extraordinary vocation to masquerade meant as a hymn to freedom.

The fact that, contrarily to my intentions, that turtle-neck jumper evoked a racist imagery causes me the greatest grief.”

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