Vogue Brazil director criticized over ‘slavery’ party

Written by Jack Guy, CNN

Vogue Brazil has become the latest fashion heavyweight to be embroiled in a row over racial and cultural sensitivity after controversial photos surfaced from style director Donata Meirelles’ birthday party.

Meirelles celebrated her 50th birthday with a star-studded dinner in Salvador de Bahia, northeast Brazil, where images of black women in traditional dress welcoming guests and posing next to a throne sparked an online furor.

Journalist Fabio Bernardo posted a photo of Meirelles sitting on the throne with a black woman standing either side, angering some who believe it evokes slavery.

CNN has attempted to contact Bernardo for comment.

“The photo clearly and unfortunately refers to a Brazil of autocracy and slavery, where black people were serving and white people tended to,” wrote Instagram user Roberto Sakiyama.

“I don’t see any praise to Afro-Brazilian culture.”

Sakiyama’s comment was one of many criticizing the images, and Rita Batista, a black female television presenter from Salvador de Bahia, attempted to explain the historical context that had upset many people.

Batista posted a shot from the party next to an image of two 19th-century slaves flanking their owner, with a caption explaining how in those days “the slave herself was a luxury object to be shown publicly.”

The outcry over the alleged similarities with slavery prompted an apology from Meirelles, who wrote on Instagram that “it wasn’t a theme party.”

Meirelles, a jet setter who is married to advertising executive Nizan Guanaes and mother to influencer Helena Bordon, is known for her lavish parties attended by international designers and photographers.

The Vogue Brazil director denied using any images associated with slavery “but if it looked otherwise, I’m sorry,” she said.

“Vogue Brazil apologizes profusely for what happened and hopes that the discussions generated have served as a learning opportunity,” the magazine wrote in an Instagram post, before announcing the creation of a permanent forum in which activists and scholars will help define content and images against inequality.

The fashion world is undergoing something of a reckoning when it comes to cultural insensitivity and alleged racism, and Meirelles’ party is the latest controversy that the magazine group has been involved in.

In January, US Muslim journalist and activist Noor Tagouri appeared in Vogue America, but she was misidentified as Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari

“Misrepresentation and misidentification is a constant problem if you are Muslim in America,” wrote Tagouri on Instagram. “And as much as I work to fight this, there are moments like this where I feel defeated.”

Vogue later apologized, but the company is not the only fashion giant that has been called out for cultural insensitivity recently.

In early February, Italian luxury brand Gucci apologized and discontinued a sweater that social media users said resembles blackface because of its design.

The black turtleneck sweater pulls up over the bottom half of the face with a cut out and oversized red lips around the mouth.

In a Twitter post, the Italian luxury brand said it “deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the wool balaclava jumper.”

And luxury fashion house Prada suffered its own controversy in December when it withdrew various products from its Pradamalia line after some items displayed in a Manhattan storefront were seen as depicting blackface imagery.

Images surfaced of some merchandise depicting monkey-like figures with black faces and large red lips, which Prada later said were “imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface.”

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