As one of the greatest violations of human rights in the modern world, you would never expect slavery to be used as a descriptor of a fashion trend. Yet, that’s exactly what has happened. At the weekend, Vogue Italia posted a feature entitled ‘Slave Earrings’ on their website. The piece includes a runway shot of a woman wearing oversized hoop earrings, describing them and other earring of a similar style as classic “slave and creole styles.” In a quick attempt to avoid criticism, Vogue Italia changed the title of their feature to ‘Ethnic Earrings’ on Monday morning. What seems strange here is the use of lexicon; it is odd that a high-fashion magazine would find the two words (‘slave’ and ‘ethnic’) to be interchangeable. What is more, despite their claims of mistranslations, Vogue Italia has kept the original copy that ran with the piece:
“If the name brings to the mind the decorative traditions of the women of colour who were brought to the southern Unites States during the late 18th century, the latest interpretation is pure freedom.”
The Vogue brand has had quite the history in making offensive suggestions, as numerous Jezebel articles have been quick to point out. Take, for instance. French Vogue painting a white model black or American Vogue portraying LeBron James as King Kong. Vogue Italia once seemed to be above its other family members in having attained some sort of enlightenment. Three years ago, the magazine published its first ‘all black’ issue, which (while not without questionable aspects) went further than any other fashion magazine to advocate racial diversity in fashion. With the feature on ‘Slave Earrings’, Vogue Italia has regressed.
Franca Sozzani, the editor of Vogue Italia, in an attempt at damage limitation, has made the following statement:
”We apologise for the inconvenience. It is a matter of really bad translation from Italian into English.”
What inconvenience? Your blatant ignorance of history? She went on to say:
“The Italian word, which defines those kind of earrings, should instead be translated into ‘ethnical style earrings’. Again, we are sorry about this mistake which we have just amended in the website.”
The original document betrays Sozzani’s attestation. In Italian, the style of the earring is described as schiave o creole. ‘Schiave’ translates to ‘slave’ in English. The description leaves no ambiguity about the reference:
”If the name brings to the mind the decorative traditions of the women of colour who were brought to the southern Unites States during the slave trade, the latest interpretation is pure freedom. Colored stones, symbolic pendants and multiple spheres. And the evolution goes on.”
‘Slave trade’ has now been changed to ‘late 18th century’. Remember, the age in which women of colour in the United States were setting the trend with their jewellery? How could we not recognise that the century that would lead into another century of slavery was all so fashionable? What was Vogue Italia trying to say by referencing one of the most shameful events in human history in a story about earrings? Apparently, trying to show us just how far we have come. After all, ‘slave earrings’ are now all about ‘pure freedom’. Vogue Italia wants to celebrate ‘evolution’ by running a feature that sets us back decades.
Changing the headline to ‘Ethnic Earrings’ has not silenced critics of the feature. One commenter left the following remark:
”Riiight. Now they’re ‘ethnic’?! My Italian may be a bit rusty, but I don’t remember slave (i.e. Schiavo in Italian) being anywhere even roughly translated to ‘ethnic’ (Etnico). If so then you are implying that any person of ethnicity darker than white is un schiavo. Please don’t act like we’re stupid. This is insulting.”
Vogue has yet to respond to the outraged comments below the piece. I recognise that the subtleties of languages can be easily lost in translation, but – in this case – the argument of mistranslation is hard to buy into. It is still shocking to see the word ‘slave’ so casually encouraged as a style and fashion.
RELATED ARTICLES / IMAGE SOURCES