Designer Phillip Lim and others are lambasting a fashion editorial set in New York City's Chinatown for perpetuating racist stereotypes.
The photo spread, shot by Billy Kidd, appears in Interview Magazine's August issue. It faces heavy criticism for featuring a Chanel-branded conical hat, an item traditionally worn by Asian day laborers, worn by an Asian model appearing to sell counterfeit Chanel handbags.
The editorial's title, "Coco Served Hot," appears to reference the illegal or "hot" goods notoriously sold on the streets of Chinatown. While the Instagram images were shared without their title, members of the fashion industry like Lim still outlined the photo series's problematic nature in the comments, writing "these images reinforces several stereotypes that asian immigrants/communities work so hard to break from- 1) hawking counterfeit goods 2) it mocks the actual everyday struggle of immigrants trying to do what they can to survive in a country foreign to them 3) mainland chinese workers (unless they are rural farmers in fields, or objectified in type cast films) actually don't live like this - this is just to start - please have a moment to reflect- it's the equivalent of casting hispanics in field dresses in dior."
However, Kidd stated that the photo series wasn't intended to depict an Asian woman selling counterfeit goods. "It’s kind of like poetry when you look at an image, you’re going to put your own feelings into it and imply what you think you see in it," Kidd told Refinery29 exclusively. "He [Phillip] saw it as counterfeit bags whereas I saw it as an Asian women wearing a conical hat and carrying, you know, Chanel handbags to wherever she’s got to get to.”
Kidd is adamant that his inspiration did not stem from Chinatown's counterfeit industry. However, the image of a woman carrying a bevy of Chanel handbags seems to clearly reference it, as does the headline "Coco Served Hot." Still, Kidd contends that he did not come up with that title.
In the post's comments, Kidd said the shoot was "inspired by mainland Chinese workers" and was driven by an attempt to "uplift what I find beautiful." Chinese photographer Mark Gong, whose work has appeared in Vogue, Elle and GQ, disagreed with using Chinese workers as inspiration for a fashion editorial. "Making fashion out of this class of people is in poor taste at best, but fashion has had a history of appropriating this," he commented. "If you wanted to highlight asians or the working poor there are certainly better and productive ways to do it than designer clothing and fashion editorials."
Despite this feedback, Kidd continues to stand by the work and its so-called inspiration. "I don’t want to be insensitive to Phillip and Mark and some people’s opinions but at the same time, at what point do we allow our inspirations to be pushed away?" Kidd told Refinery29. "When do we stop allowing the things that we find beautiful to be covered up and not allowed to talk about?"
Perhaps the continued dialogue between Kidd and his critics will prove to answer his question.