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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fashion's Latest Scandal: The Black Woman Chair

Posted by Marjorie Skinner on Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 3:00 PM

As if everyone doesn't already have Russia on watch, yesterday's MLK day saw Russian fashion publication Buro 24/7 posting this photo of Dasha Zhukova, editor in chief of another Russian magazine, Garage:

o-DASHA-ZHUKOVA-570.jpg
  • Buro 24/7

After a Twitter-led explosion of outrage, the publication altered the photo to crop out most of the chair, which in case you can't tell is not a real person but a creepily realistic design by British artist Allen Jones (it also comes in "white woman"). Buro's editor, Miroslava Duma, also quickly responded with an apology on Instagram, assuring that their publication is "against racism or gender inequality or anything that infringes upon anyone's rights... The chair in the photo should only be seen as a piece of art... and not as any form of racial discrimination."

There are obviously a few things working against Buro's favor here, but the fashion world's go-to "art" excuse feels increasingly insufficient when raising eyebrows in a racial context (to say nothing of misogyny). Grumbles over the international fashion world's racial homogeneity are growing louder and angrier (underscored by the revelation of Rick Owens' Spring 2014 show, which famously featured step dancer models who were mostly minority and not of a kind with typical models' physiques). It can certainly be constructive to use art (and fashion, if you'll allow fashion to be included as art by extension) for provocation, but when you're pushing a button that's so obviously and widely sensitive—and the timing here was amazingly bad, if probably oblivious—it doesn't take much of a stretch to assume you'd better be standing by with an explanation that's more nuanced than what boils down to "cool chair."

UPDATE!: Zhukova apologized too.

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