Timberland announced today that it was cutting ties with French company A.P.C., following controversial remarks made by its president, Jean Touitou, during the label’s Autumn 2015 presentation in Paris last week. Style.com was on hand during the presentation and reported the following in its review:
[Touitou] held up a sign that said, “Last Ni##@$ IN PARIS,” and gave us this exposition: “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…”
When contacted by Style.com after the show, Toutitou replied by email, essentially adding some additional background details on his inspiration and adding that the collection was partially inspired by his relationship with Kanye West, ” I am friends with Kanye, and he and I presented a joint collection at the same place, one year ago, and that this thing is only a homage to our friendship.”
Timberland, whose boots were included in the presentation as part of a planned boot collaboration with A.P.C., today responded to the controversy with a press release from its president, Stewart Whitney. According to Complex magazine who broke the news,
“We have chosen to immediately terminate our involvement with the A.P.C. brand. Simply stated, this kind of language and approach is in complete contrast with our values. Timberland seeks to collaborate with designers and brands who are at the forefront of lifestyle trends; equally important, they must also share our values. We will not tolerate offensive language or racial slurs of any kind being associated with the Timberland brand.”
A.P.C. has yet to respond to Timberland’s statement and West has neither confirmed nor denied his role in approving Touitou’s show theme.
[UPDATE: After Timberland’s announcement to cut ties, the following day Touitou issued an apology for his actions in a statement sent to GQ magazine. It reads as follows: “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.”]
It’s easy to conclude that the white president of a company based in a country with a history of race and religious-related conflicts would understand how problematic it is to use a minority slur in a public presentation (on posters no less) and yet the European fashion industry has a history of presenting itself as clueless when it comes to representation and description of people of color.
While by no means exclusive to Europe, New York magazine last year rounded up some examples that included noteworthy race-related missteps in an article called “A Recent History of Vogue‘s Tone Deaf Editorials.” There are many other examples, including a Dutch magazine called Marilyn in 2011 that described Rihanna as a “niggabitch” in an editorial, a description it refused to apologize for though the editor stepped down eventually. And while all casting directors in the four major fashion cities are viewed as reluctant to cast black models, Paris and Milan are viewed as particularly problematic, an issue that Buzzfeed shed light on with an article that asked casting directors why runways are so white.