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French ELLE Article's Racist Remarks Spark Boycott

Piper Weiss
Shine from Yahoo! Canada
January 27, 2012

If a fashion writer for French Elle is to be believed—and she is not—African-Americans weren't stylish until the Obama family came into office.

"For the first time, the chic has become a plausible option for a community so far pegged [only] to its street wear codes," writes Nathalie Dolivo in a post translated from the magazine's website titled 'Black Fashion Power.'

And if this sweeping stereotyping and flat-out ignorance weren't already off base, Dolivo goes on to explain why the so-called Obama renaissance of style is so "chic." According to her assessment, it embraces "white codes" while still making what she calls "a bourgeois ethnic reference (a batik-printed turban/robe, a shell necklace, a 'créole de rappeur') reminiscent [of] the roots."

See more: Italian Vogue blasted for 'slave earrings'


Dolivo's story was inspired by a recent New York Times article about a popular website called Street Etiquette, which curates and interprets black men's fashion through a historical lens.  "I truly believe there wasn't any malice in [Dolivo's] remarks," site co-founder Joshua Kissi told Shine in an email. "With that said, I think she wasn't perfectly equipped in discussing the often muddy issues of 'ethnicity' and 'fashion' in the same vein."

The reaction from commenters after the post went up was less forgiving. One reader put the author straight: "How, in 2012, in a France where there are at least three million blacks and mixed people, can you write such nonsense? You are too kind when you write that in 2012 we have incorporated the white codes … what do you think, in 2011, we dressed in hay and burlap bags?"

Another wrote: "You really think we waited until the Obama's to know style and let go of our 'street wear' proclivities?"

The disturbing blog post has since been removed from Elle's website, but the firestorm is just getting warmed up.

See more: Naomi Campbell shocked by 'racist' advertisement

Fellow fashion writers are taking a stand against Dolivo's message. The Cut's Alex Rees describes the post as "misguided and prejudiced." Sarah Nicole Prickett of Canada's Fashion Magazine labels the article itself a "white supremacist."

"We are not one monolithic group to be written about like zoo animals," admonishes Fashion Bomb Daily's Clair Sulmers.

It hasn't helped that French Elle has yet to provide a satisfactory apology for readers. According to Vogue Italia, Valerie Toranian, French Elle's editor-in-chief, expressed regret that the article was "misinterpreted," but didn't acknowledge with any understanding why readers were so offended.

As of now, the image of a blush brush and a pink-powdered '404' appears in place of the original story. Somehow, this superficial error message and the oversized "oups!" makes Dolivo's post harder to forget.

See more: Beyonce accused of skin lightening in promo ad

On Thursday, a Facebook group launched calling for a boycott of French Elle. "Say stop in order to not let the press, media etc.... publish such horror without apologizing," reads (in translation) the site's appeal.


But continued apologies don't undo the growing list of race-based offenses in European fashion magazines. There was Italian Vogue's trend piece on so-called "slavery earrings" and their French edition's fashion spread of a model in blackface. Just last month the Dutch magazine Jackie published a racial slur in a profile of Rihanna.

See more: Swastika earrings provoke outrage

Is history getting lost in translation or is Europe's high fashion scene splintered with racism? The Root's Claudio E. Cabrera offers an interesting perspective. He wonders "if the racial insensitivity that many blacks encounter in Europe has something to do with these countries never having had a civil rights movement." He goes on to offer some advice for publishers overseas: "Try truly diversifying your staffs, followed by some intensive diversity training."

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