Fashion + Diversity

Chanel Ignites Controversy Upon Appointing its First Head of Diversity and Inclusion Chief

Throughout the past few years, diversity and inclusion has become the pinocle point of importance for most industries, particularly the fashion industry. Mitú reports the fashion industry is notorious for safeguarding and creating “a lack of diversity in its designers, models and photographers.” Trailing the steps of major luxury brands, French fashion house Chanel appoint its first Head of Diversity and Inclusion. According to Business of Fashion, Fiona Pargeter will be taking on this new role. Pargeter’s previous role was Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Swiss Bank UBS in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  

A variety of luxury fashion houses such as Gucci, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana have testified and claimed to undergo impactful changes to become more diverse and inclusive companies, to craft a community whereby being different is absolutely fine. Which is of course due to plethora of backlash received regarding their racial scandals and campaigns which entail Gucci’s black turtleneck which referenced a blackface character, and Dolce & Gabbana designer Stefano Gabbana’s racist comments via social media. The list goes on and on. In order to somewhat be ahead of the curve, Chanel has taken the opportunity to make structural changes to drive the house’s existing diversity and inclusivity efforts. However, unlike the other fashion houses, Chanel’s hire is particularly different (and not in the diverse kind of way).  

Chanel’s thought process is, certainly… Interesting

Prior to this new role, Chanel’s People & Organisation department directly dealt with diversity initiatives, which was a rookie mistake, as they did not have any actual experience regarding cultural insensitivity. Chanel simply left their people communications and engagement leader to deal with diversity issues, which evokes how little they cared about actual diversity and inclusion. However, their new recruitment is supposedly to be a ‘sign of their commitment to create momentum for their efforts’. This would have completely made sense if Chanel hired a member of an actual minority, someone who has a different cultural perspective.

I’m aware the position does not necessarily need to be filled with a minority representative however, it does make you think if this is another failed attempt at diversification. The fashion industry persistently breeds controversy and is always under heat from public scrutiny. Therefore, was hiring Pargeter an attempt to escape these ramifications or is she actually the best person for the job?

Diversity isn’t rocket science!

Diversity’s simple. It’s literally the state of being diverse therefore, having a range of different opinions incorporated in brand marketing. This somewhat helps to eliminate cultural insensitivity. Mitú reports their profound confusion as to whether someone who isn’t a POC (person of colour) understands racism? Which I, myself thought. Does she understand what minorities truly experience? Can she make real difference in the systems that oppresses these groups? 

In 2019, Gucci hired Renée Tirado as their global head of diversity, equity and inclusion. It was their first appointment throughout their 98 years of existing. In that same year, Prada also hired activist Theaster Gates and Ava Duvernay to co-chair Prada’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council to incorporate people of colour in the company and the fashion industry at large. These are simply examples of the change, diversity and inclusion. These people offer a knowledgeable perspective to cultural ignorance, something which fashion brands clearly lack. If the past were to replay itself, history does evidently show that only people whom have experienced the oppressive system, can alter it to manifest great systematic change. 

Fashion brands are now somewhat hurrying to hire more diverse talent and the influx of diversity, and inclusion positions at fashion houses are great and display an all-inclusive, cultural-sensitive fashion industry. However, there is no point in employing for diversity, if brands do not use that diversity efficiently.

Controversial Chanel?

Who knows? Maybe Pargeter might have actually been the best to employ? I once again, completely acknowledge that it is still a promising act. However, a person of colour just seems more practical to me, as they’d offer a new direction for the company. It would have been a great way to resurrect the brand and foreshadow a new future, especially after the passing of Karl Lagerfeld. He was extremely influential throughout the world however; his views were heavily controversial and ‘problematic’. Therefore, hiring someone who’d go against his traditional views would have demonstrated that the brand is moulding a new creative future. 

The internet’s judgement…

Chanel’s appointment instigated a public uproar, as per usual the internet was populated with opinions and split views. Twitter user @PAM_BOY vocalises that “White privilege is hiring a Head of Diversity and Inclusion who isn’t a POC” in which he simplifies, “imagine KFC hiring a Chicken Expert who has never eaten chicken” (hilarious but they do have a point, KFC would decline as could Chanel).

However, Diversity proponent Amit Anand says he’s “unable to comprehend the “farce inclusion” backlash from some quarters who are asking why couldn’t Chanel a woman/man/non-binary person of colour to do the job?” He adds, “It’s time to move beyond selective diversity…. Isn’t talent & the value the person brings to the table a more important criteria?” MattG Style reports: “The world is snooping to see how this – or better, if – will work out, as Chanel’s diversity ambassador is, well, white”. I still believe it would have been smarter to hire a person of colour.

However, this development for diversity and inclusion is still encouraging and inspiring. It is an incremental process, I do hope that both Chanel and Pargeter will be able to make a difference in their brand and the whole industry.

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