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After a controversial racially-charged episode with a certain Parisian brand, we shed light on some other offenses that were taken in the menswear industry that also deserve a second look.

If we were the type to label weeks, then last week would go down as “A Most Offensive Week in Menswear.” And it’s not just A.P.C., although it deservedly took the brunt of the press. Other offenders were Nigel Cabourn and Jeff Staple, who evoked the ghost of a thousand far right politicians on his Twitter feed. But let’s start with A.P.C.

We’re going to assume you’re familiar with the A.P.C. debacle by now. But it’s still worth going over one more time. Last week, Style.com reported on A.P.C.’s Fall/Winter 2015 collection, noting that Jean Touitou repeatedly used the word “Nigger” during the presentation alongside a prepared placard with the title of the collection, “Last Ni##@$ IN PARIS”; he didn’t start saying the word on a whim. His words in full were this:

“I call this one look ‘Last N****s in Paris.’ Why? Because it’s the sweet spot when the hood — the ‘hood’ — meets Bertolucci’s movie, Last Tango in Paris. So that’s ‘N****s in Paris’ and ‘Last N****s in Paris.’ [Nervous laughter from audience.] Oh, I am glad some people laughed with me. Yes, I mean, it’s nice to play with the strong signifiers. The Timberland here is a very strong ghetto signifier. In the ghetto, it is all the Timberlands, all the big chain. Not at the same time — never. It’s bad taste. So we designed Timberlands with Timberland…”

A lot has been said about this passage; there’s the fact that he refers to an offensive slur in the English language as a strong “signifier” after being greeted with nervous laughter, and then there’s the conflation of ghetto and black with the usage of Timberland as a very strong “signifier.” There’s also the fact he’s referring to a three-year-old song in the title of his collection, leading one to believe he’s both needlessly offensive and out of touch. Which isn’t surprising, as the two often go hand-in-hand. Then, when asked to clarify his statements, Touitou doubled down, saying this:

“One hip-hop song is called N***** in Paris. One movie is called Last Tango in ParisI made looks which are a crossover of those two references: the Timberland shoes and the sweatpants are iconic of hip-hop, and the camel hair color coat, worn with nothing under it, is iconic of that precise movie. I am friends with Kanye [West, who recorded Ni**as in Paris with Jay-Z], and he and I presented a joint collection at the same place, one year ago, and this thing is only a homage to our friendship. As a matter of fact, when I came up with this idea, I wrote to him with the picture of the look and the name I was giving to it, and he wrote back immediately saying something like, ‘I love this vibe.'”

So according to Touitou, the title of this collection was thought out. He followed this admission by bringing up Kanye West giving the collection his stamp of approval, presumably to pre-empt the backlash he’d receive from using the slur in the collection. So far, there’s nothing that suggests recklessness. Then the world caught on. Touitou could dismiss the fashion press, but when the news spread beyond this bubble, he wasn’t as safe. Still, there was no sign of an apology. This changed when Timberland cancelled the collaboration.

When the cancellation happened, coupled with A.P.C. quickly becoming known as the brand that tried to sell clothes by using racial slurs, Touitou apologized with this statement given to “GQ”: 

“When describing our brand’s latest collaboration, I spoke recklessly using terms that were both ignorant and offensive. I apologize and am deeply regretful for my poor choice of words, which are in no way a reflection of my personal views.”

If we were to nitpick this apology, we’d point out that he also made a placard with the collection title on it, perhaps suggesting that it wasn’t just reckless words. We’d also point out the fact that A.P.C. sought out Timberland for a collaboration shows there was a lot more forethought than is being alluded to in the apology. And finally, there’s the fact that he doubled down on his comments until the collaboration was cancelled and press scrutiny intensified. All of these signs point to an apology that’s based more on business than any actual sign of contriteness, but that’s more than other brands have done.

For instance, let’s take Nigel Cabourn. In an interview with Vestoj, he said many interesting, illuminating things about the business and his career. He also said this:

“Pretty soon I realized I wanted to design menswear, which was unheard of in Newcastle then. Everybody else did either womenswear or children’s wear. And I wasn’t gay like most other male designers. They’re all gay, let’s face it. And they all design womenswear because they want to dress like women and look like women. So it was hard to get inspiration for me back then.”

It’s easy and comfortable to gloss over this statement, a relatively small part of a much longer feature. Yet it’s this kind of homophobic statement (it’s worth noting that people who aren’t homophobes are capable of making homophobic remarks, we think that’s the case here), and the utter non-reaction to it that makes people feel unsafe and ‘othered’ in an environment. Anyone who isn’t what’s deemed the norm has had a moment when someone’s said something wildly offensive about someone of a different gender, race or sexuality and everyone apart from you has laughed. In that moment you probably smiled or tried to ignore it, lest you be accused of not having a sense of humor, but you become acutely aware of your difference.

Also, it’s probably the most open secret in menswear that huge swathes of the menswear industry is based on the latent homophobia of “not looking like one of them.” It’s not always overt, but it’s always there — sometimes, just in a way someone promotes themselves as “making clothes for normal men” or something similar to that. We’re not saying you should throw your camera man jacket away, but we should acknowledge these comments for what they are, at the very least. And let’s not use the “He’s from a different time” excuse. Cabourn is 65, and as he’s mentioned in the article, he’s still learning. But learning whether or not things are discriminatory shouldn’t be an excuse.

Rounding off the week was Jeff Staple, who posted these comments as a series of Tweets:

We’re going to have to admit to a lack of in-depth knowledge on the relationship between China and Japan. The world is filled with poor experts already; there’s no need for us to add to it. However, we are familiar with the politicians who traffic in the fear of the unknown, which Staple is disconcertingly sounds like. In the UK, this is the current UKIP strategy; in the US, it’s the whistling underneath everything reactionary politicians say (who, like Touitou, often use ghetto as a synonym for black). The idea that immigrants are ruining everything is an incredibly old thought process. It’s so old, it’s astounding that it’s still thought of something that can’t be said.

We’re not asking for an apology from Cabourn or Staple, but we do think that the fashion media landscape should be broad enough to include critiques of statements like this. Gawker-esque takedowns aren’t necessary, but a mere acknowledgment that a designer said something that wasn’t okay is all it takes. You can still like their clothes — no one’s going to call you a hypocrite — but let’s not breathlessly accept everything a designer says. It’s indicative of the current environment that only the A.P.C. debacle was deemed worthy of any coverage at all, showing that despite the strides made, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to reporting these issues in menswear.

Words by Jason Dike
Editor-at-large
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