Just when you think society is making progress, a story like this one comes out. French ready-to-wear clothing brand A.P.C. caused a stir this week after its fall menswear show in Paris. How offensive could a fashion show be? Well, when it incorporates use of the n-word, the answer is: very.
The show aimed to introduce A.P.C.’s new collaboration with the American brand Timberland, which A.P.C.’s founder Jean Touitou described as being “a very strong ghetto signifier.” (Um, what?) The show featured Touitou holding a sign that read “LAST NI##@$ IN PARIS,” which he explained later was supposed to be a mix of the Jay-Z and Kanye West song “N**gas in Paris” and the film “Last Tango in Paris.”
Touitou is apparently good buddies with Kanye West, and has collaborated with the rapper on products in the past. He claims Kanye was on board with the idea when Touitou ran it by him, saying Kanye “loved this vibe.” Let this be a lesson to all of us not to take Kanye's advice.
Timberland felt a bit differently. The company announced that it has “chosen to immediately terminate ... involvement with the A.P.C. brand,” which also will also mean the end of a footwear collaboration that was previously set to come out in the fall. Timberland stated that brands it collaborates with “must share our values” and said that it would “not tolerate offensive language or racial slurs of any kind being associated with … Timberland.”
The n-word has a long and fraught history, and has been the subject of countless debates about who (if anyone) can use it, how (or if) it should be used, and whether it can (or should) be reclaimed by the black community.
This controversy reminds me in many ways of Karl Lagerfeld’s "feminist" Chanel show. Though there are obviously many differences between the two, the fundamental similarity lies in the appropriation and stereotyping of a group for no reason other than to make money. Touitou never claimed to be making a political statement, and perhaps this fact makes it even worse. Touitou attached so little significance to the power of the word that he believed it could be used casually and inoffensively. To think this demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of history and of race relations as they exist today on his part, and Timberland undoubtedly made the right call in distancing itself from a company headed by someone with such an apparent lack of common sense.