Prada removes 'blackface' products following backlash

Prada has removed a series of products from its stores worldwide after accusations they were offensive and depicted blackface.

Luxury company says it 'never had the intention of offending' with monkey-faced, red-lipped key chains

Prada has removed products from its "Pradamalia" line after accusations the items were offensive and racist when photos were posted on social media showing a store window in New York. (Chinyere Ezie/Facebook)

Prada has removed a series of products from its stores worldwide after accusations the items were racist and depicted blackface.

"Prada Group never had the intention of offending anyone," the luxury apparel brand posted on Twitter Friday.

Backlash began earlier this week after photos began circulating on social media, showing close-ups of the items juxtaposed with traditional blackface illustrations.

Chinyere Ezie, a lawyer at the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights, posted a series of pictures on Facebook after spotting the items in the brand's storefront window in New York.

'Shaking with anger'

"I entered the store with a coworker, only to be assaulted with more and more bewildering examples," she posted Thursday.

Ezie said the imagery left her "shaking with anger."

"This iconography has been used throughout history to mock and demean black people and strip us of our humanity," she added in a statement provided to CBC News.

The post made its way through the social media sphere, and has received thousands of shares, likes and comments, including support from hip hop artist Talib Kweli.

"I don't know if y'all have seen Prada's new blackface line, but more shocking than the products is the explanation," he posted on Twitter to his more than one million followers.

The monkey-faced goods, which Prada describes as "fantasy charms" from its Pradamalia line, include keychains and small toys of different colours which retail for about $650.

Company calls them 'imaginary creatures'

The company describes the product line as a "new family of mysterious, tiny creatures that are one part biological, one part technological" and have names like Otto, Toto and Disco.

The black and brown versions feature oversized red lips — a common characteristic of historical blackface imagery — and are no longer available on the Italian company's website.

"They are imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface," Prada, which specializes in high-end clothing, leather bags and shoes, said in its statement.

"We abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery. In this interest we will withdraw the characters in question from display and circulation."

The New York Commission on Human Rights announced Friday it was launching an investigation into Prada following the backlash on social media.

High-end fashion, low-end awareness

The controversy is another example of the luxury fashion market demonstrating a lack of cultural awareness.

Italian designers Dolce&Gabbana were forced to apologize in November after taking major heat for a series of social media ads in which a Chinese model was shown trying to eat Italian food with chopsticks. The fiasco, which was compounded by leaked private social media messaging appearing to further disparage China, led to the cancellation of what was supposed to be a significant fashion show by the brand in the country.

Both the Prada and Dolce&Gabbana incidents have led social media calls for a boycott of the brands.

Contentious remarks about blackface also led to the ouster of former NBC host Megyn Kelly in October.

After Prada released the apology, Ezie told CBC News in an email Sunday that she felt "dismay."

"Instead of taking accountability and having a deeper soul-searching, they were merely trying to sweep their racism and blackface problem under the rug," she said.

She added in an updated Facebook post about the company over the weekend: "Shame on you for not having people of colour in leadership positions to stop this disgrace."