From Marc Jacobs' dreadlock-gate to Vogue's Geisha-themed editorial, many fashion brands have teetered between cultural celebration and appropriation rather unsuccessfully — and been met with a swift social media backlash. Tory Burch found itself in that uncomfortable situation when its latest video campaign was subject to accusations of the latter: "#ToryStory: An American Roadtrip" featured Poppy Delevingne and other fair-skinned models sinhing and dancing to "Juju On That Beat," which some took as yet another example of whitewashing Black music. The brand was quick in its response, though: By Wednesday evening, the clip had disappeared from its Youtube page and Instagram account.
It didn't help that Tory Burch released this rather awkward-if-well-intentioned campaign right as Gucci's "relatable" memes began facing more scrutiny on social media and online from those unconvinced by a brand's attempt to speak to hip youth culture. Trying to capitalize on the popularity of a song by two Black artists and then failing to credit either of them — and then have white models attempt the dance the song popularized? Yeah, that doesn't sit well. As you may have guessed, some took to Twitter to voice their discontent with Tory Burch.
"The video was intended to celebrate music that we love with our spring collection," Tory Burch said in a statement. "It was never meant to be insensitive in any way. We have removed the video from our channels. I personally feel very badly if this hurt anyone and I am truly sorry.”
The disconnect between the soundtrack and the casting (pretty much exclusively white, slim PYTs) was cringe-worthy, no doubt. The banner of cultural appropriation, though, may be too strong in this particular instance, considering the more glaring, uncomfortable, and pervasive blind spots the industry has exhibited towards race. (Let's not forget that in recent seasons, we've seen designers present "Africa-inspired" collections with Caucasian models and market four-figure footwear as "slave sandals.") You can confidently catalog this video as yet another example of how designers fail to diversify their casting — and how poorly that can translate on camera. It's hard to watch this Tory Burch video without squirming in your seat. Still, we wouldn't put it in the same bucket as countless industry offenses that are downright exploitative.
Insensitive is perhaps a more appropriate way to describe this: The brand failed to grasp how the optics of casting mostly white models to prance around to "Juju On That Beat" would translate. Hopefully, when this type of campaign is being discussed in-house at a fashion label, it'll get shot down at the pitch meeting.