Donna Karan has spent much of the past year on charity initiatives in Haiti, focused specifically on exporting Haitian craftsmanship and artistry to help rebuild earthquake-devastated communities. She spent so much time there, in fact, that Haitian-inspired prints and an earthy color palette have surfaced in her Spring 2012 collection. The fashion industry is commonly criticized for more general types of cultural appropriation (usually in absence of charitable efforts), but Karan is coming under fire specifically for the collection’s accompanying ad campaign.
The images were shot in southern Haiti by Russell James, inspired by Haitian artist Phillippe Dodard. They feature Victoria’s Secret Angel Adriana Lima in Karan’s characteristic luxe textures and relaxed silhouettes. Karan gave an interview to WWD yesterday, in which she praised Lima (who is Brazilian) as a model, saying: “I have never used her before, and I am totally in love with her. She shows the heart and soul of Haiti.”
The root of the controversy is this image:
Essentially, a beautiful woman in expensive clothes seated beside two Haitians, almost unnoticeable in the shadows. It’s possible that Karan was trying to set luxury and need in stark (starker?) relief. However, high fashion in particular has long been guilty of using people of color as props and–especially–using impoverished communities as “exotic” backdrops for its many unapologetically imperialist, safari-themed editorials.
Some are saying the campaign is “misguided” or “unwelcome,” while others argue that it is an expression of Karan’s compassion for a nation that still needs help. There will surely be more opinions soon. Do you find the image offensive? If so, does Karan’s charity work influence your feelings? Let us know.