Black men have been harassed, discriminated against, and in some cases even killed for wearing so-called “sagging jeans” that hang low and leave the exposed waistline of underwear underneath. But now, one of the world’s biggest and most popular luxury fashion brands is being accused of not only culturally appropriating the style but also trying to cash in on it, marketing a pair of grey sweatpants that hang low on the hips and appear to have exposed boxers around the waistline — for $1,190.
CNN’s Fernando Alfonso III has reported that Balenciaga “has been lambasted by some fashion and Black history experts for what they say is cultural appropriation.”
The scandal appears to have started with a TikTok user named @mr200m__ spotted the Trompe-L’Oeil pants and said, “This feels racist. They’ve woven the boxers inside the trouser.”
Others soon expressed similar outrage to the design across social media.
— 2 High Podcast (@2highpodcasttv) September 7, 2021
To monopolize on the idea of sagging and put it in the general culture as a cool and acceptable idea, fails to acknowledge how often black people are shut out of certain spaces while there pants are sagging.
— Thee Mustang (@treytheemustang) September 9, 2021
+ #balenciaga has got to be trolling. at least, we hope they are because those pants are terrible. absolutely terrible & none of you better buy those 📍.
— RΛSHΛRD NΛMUH + (@RASHARDNAMUH) September 10, 2021
In an interview with CNN addressing the controversy, Marquita Gammage, an associate professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Northridge, revealed that she was also deeply bothered by the Balenciaga design and what she saw as the company attempting to exploit Black culture solely for increased profits.
“Balenciaga men’s Trompe-L’Oeil sweatpants in red triggers immediate concern given the grotesque similarity to the iconic African American hip hop aesthetic worn by Black Americans for decades that has resulted in the imprisonment and death of Black men,” Gammage said. “The trousers have commercial cultural appropriation written all over them; branded with the name Balenciaga.”
In her 2018 report “Cultural Appropriation as ‘Agency Reduction’” published in the International Journal of Africana Studies, Gammage explored how the type of misappropriation of Black culture, evident in Balenciaga’s design, “undermines the ingenuity, functionality and beauty of Black cultural expressions while simultaneously delegitimizing Black experiences of injustices for capital gain.”
“Sagging attire has been consequential for African Americans, yet companies like Balenciaga seek to capitalize off of Blacks and Black cultural styles while failing to challenge systematic racism that criminalizes Blacks and Black clothing trends,” she told Alfonso.
Fashion designer Stella Jean also told CNN she sees the latest Balenciaga design as problematic.
According to Jean, creative director and co-founder of a project called We Are Made in Italy that aims to raise social awareness and promote the work of designers of color, “Black culture is so often sampled, but rarely ever cited.”
“Beyond giving credit where credit is overdue, the payout for those who have created and selflessly shared their genius, creativity, risk-taking and innovation, rarely, if ever, comes,” Jean said. “In Black culture, there’s a thing we refer to as the ‘Black tax.’ This refers to the extra amount of effort, sweat and nonsense you’re going to have to put forth and put up with to get even half of the success that someone else with your talent and skills who happens to be white might attain.”
In a statement defending the company’s design, Balenciaga’s chief marketing officer, Ludivine Pont, told CNN: “In many of our collections, we combine different wardrobe pieces into a single garment, such as denim jeans layered over tracksuit pants, cargo shorts merged with jeans and button-up shirts layered over t-shirts. These Trompe L’Oeil trousers were an extension of that vision.”