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IS it racist abuse of black stereotypes or just a marketing gimmick?

The jury is out on a controversial fashion spread in the latest British edition of GQ Style magazine.

The spread in the magazine’s April issue was reportedly shot in South Africa and features models in Louis Vuitton apparel, with accessories such as chains and luggage.

In one image, US model Valentine Rontez wears a chain around his neck, fastened with a padlock. A child on his shoulders wears a collar.

In another image, a model trudges across what appears to be a desert, with a baby on his back, next to him a female model weighed down with luxury luggage.

Social media commentators have trashed the images, initially posted online by Street Fashion, calling them “a depiction of modern-day slavery”. Some have said the models are posed to look like “slaves, dogs, prisoners”.

South African fashion director and stylist Siya Beyile, who worked on shows such as the MTV Africa Music Awards, said he was “tired of being sick and tired of brands showcasing Africa in such a poor light”.

“Is that the best story they could tell? It’s poor and distasteful styling. How can you put chains around children’s necks and not be conscious of the message ... our painful history cannot be ridiculed, especially when we still face racism.”

But Professor Hlonipha Mokoena from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of the Witwatersrand said she did not believe Louis Vuitton was “depicting slavery or [the] degradation of black people”.

There was a “vast ethnographic archive” of photographs of African men dressed in what he referred to as “Afropunk” styles. The fashion spread was “more of a marketing gimmick than a racist abuse of black stereotypes”.

“Punk has a long African precedence, which Louis Vuitton is now trying to exploit to convince Western men to be daring [when] accessorising ... Louis Vuitton is not the only [one] doing this — there is a general attempt to get Western consumers to wear bigger, bolder earrings, accessories, colours ... it is a form of ‘exoticisation’.”

Designer Gavin Rajah said the images brought to mind “forced migration and a sense of despair”.

“As mere consumers of a luxury brand this may not be offensive, but [these consumers] have never completely understood Africans ... or the impact of colonisation,” said Rajah.

Trend analyst Nicola Cooper said “the implication of slavery or colonialism is most certainly evident”.

“We are in a sensitive time. Brands such as Louis Vuitton should be aware of the cultural implications and racial sensitivities of their campaigns. This is not the first time the brand has been called out for cultural appropriation, so I do not think they are ignorant of this factor.”

Said Jason Killingsworth on Twitter: “This seems incredibly ill-conceived. Because they really can’t be this insipid.”

Richard Pickard, publicity manager for Condé Nast Britain, which owns GQ Style Britain, this week declined to comment. Louis Vuitton did not respond to questions. - story was published in the Sunday Times

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