Periodically, fashion has its Zoolander moments—those idiotic decisions by arbiters of the industry that trivialize real human suffering for the sake of controversy.
In the 2001 parody movie there was the homeless-inspired Derelicte clothing line. In real life, there was the Duncan Quinn ad with the woman being choked, the Calvin Klein child pornography campaign, and now the latest: Vogue's slave earrings.
In this month's Italian edition of the magazine, a trend story on hoop earrings bares the headline "Slave Earrings." The text accompanying the image of a model wearing the circular jewelry reads: "If the name brings to the mind the decorative traditions of the women of colour who were brought to the southern United States during the slave trade, the latest interpretation is pure freedom.”
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Sorry Vogue, but America's horrific history of oppression and human torture can't be treated with the same cavalier proclamation, as say, bell bottoms making a comeback. The topic of slavery never was and never will be fair-game fodder for fashion. The Twitter universe made that abundantly clear on Monday as hoards of comments like "insanely offensive" and "What the f--- were they thinking?" flooded the social networking site. Finally, Italian Vogue's editors got a clue. Sort of.
"We apologize for the inconvenience. It is a matter of really bad translation from Italian into English," the magazine's editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani said in a statement to press."The Italian word, which defines those kind of earrings, should instead be translated into 'ethnic style earrings'. Again, we are sorry about this mistake which we have just amended in the website."
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If the word "inconvenience" wasn't enough compelling evidence, the title change from "Slave Earrings" to "Ethnic Earrings" on the magazine's English translated website, was a tip-off to readers that something still wasn't connecting for the fashion bible's Italian staff.
"It's equally frightening that the high fashion magazine, would find the two words–slave and ethnic–interchangeable," writes Fashionista's Hayley Phelan.
By Monday evening, the entire article was finally removed from the sight and replaced with the following text: "We've decided to remove the article from the site to prove our good faith and to show it wasn't our intention to insult anyone."
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But for many, the damage is already done. If fashion is about controlling how people perceive you, and Vogue is the world's fashion bible, their Italian editors are in no position to be dispensing any advice. Right now, they're perceived as clueless.