Prejudice is nothing new in the fashion industry. Last year, Zara was accused of harassment, and news broke this week that Coach was facing a weight-discrimination suit. Today, another brand is is under fire: Perry Ellis is being sued over claims that the company’s president, Oscar Feldenkreis, demanded there be “no Blacks in my ads” or “anyone who looked too gay.” According to The Guardian, Joseph Cook, the senior account executive who filed the lawsuit, alleges he was “forced to endure highly offensive homophobic, racial, and ethnic slurs” from Feldenkreis, dating as far back as December 2013. The Perry Ellis brand, which also owns labels Original Penguin, Ping, and Nike Swim, “categorically denies” all allegations.
Cook accuses Feldenkreis, who is due to replace his father as chief executive next year, of saying “no Blacks in my ads” to his team during a meeting to approve new advertisements. After the meeting, the Perry Ellis president allegedly asked that all ads be sent to him so he could properly screen them before publication. The suit also alleges that Feldenkreis’ daughter Erica — who happens to be brand director of Original Penguin — repeatedly told Cook “my dad doesn’t like having Black guys in his ads, or anyone who looks too gay.” According to the lawsuit, Cook claims his role has been diminished since he complained about Feldenkreis’ alleged homophobic and racist behavior.
There are countless horrendous anecdotes in the suit, including one where Cook claims that Feldenkreis created a body-based, color-coded system for Black models. Cook says that when someone referred to a model with the code “not 05,” he asked for clarification and was sent an email image of a dozen black Crayola crayons in response. Cook also accuses Feldenkreis of suggesting he could avoid jury duty simply by "telling them you hate n*ggers and f*gs." "As a gay man, Mr. Cook was deeply disturbed by both the nature of this hateful remark and Mr. Feldenkreis’s hostile tone of voice," Cook's lawyers wrote.
“It is incredible that a company founded by a gay man can now be so insensitive to others based on their sexual orientation and race,” Cook’s lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, added. In a statement to the New York Post, a Perry Ellis spokesperson said, “Perry Ellis is a company that promotes equal opportunity and a positive working environment... The claims that have been asserted will be vigorously defended against.”