January 10th, 2012
Fashion Discussion, Fashion News
Do These Ads Bother You? Michael Kors and Donna Karan Spring 2012
By Claire

Donna Karan and Michael Kors looked to the Caribbean and Africa to inspire their Spring 2012 collections, and we’re now getting first glances at their proposed advertising campaigns.

In both instances it’s hard to overlook the placement of contemplative/sad looking black people in the background, who are part of the tableau but still just an accessory to the overall luxuriousness of the setting.

Donna Karan definitely caught heat for her ad, and one commenter on the Huffington Post fumed, “using the downtrodden as props for high-fashion shoots smacks of completely insensitive imperialistic attitudes.” For the moment Michael Kors is still in the clear, though his ad seems to follow a similar theme.

It’s hard to censor someone’s ‘creativity’ in fashion, even if their ideas aren’t actually that creative. The idea of the Africans as ‘props’ to high fashion photo shoots (in Africa) has been done and redone over the past several decades. I would hope designers would try to evolve and maybe even tap black models to show off their goods. Couldn’t you see Liya Kebede working that Michael Kors ad?

But do these ads bother you? Or are they simple artistic expressions?

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53 Responses to “Do These Ads Bother You? Michael Kors and Donna Karan Spring 2012”

  1. Michael Kors ad is straight but Donna … come on. I just hope the folks were paid for being in the shot. It reminds me of that scene in Mahogany where they were doing the photo shoot outside of that broken down house with the locals of the community and they weren’t paying them.

  2. Sticky-n-Sweet says:

    In the Michael Kors ad, the Black man is a guide, more than likely. Went I went on safari, we had a young Maasai man as our guide. He could have really made the ad pop with a Black model, though. I am too through with the DKNY ad, I know she’s doing a lot in Haiti, but what exactly is she trying to convey with this ad, that her clothes look even more luxurious juxtaposed against abject poverty?!

  3. Frantzie says:

    I know the intention was not to be offensive. But it goes to show how advertisers have a long way to come. Why must people of the diaspora be portrayed like “that”? It’s insensitive.

  4. outofplace says:

    the african guys look like models to me. just the imagery doesn’t seem highly stereotypical to me. I’m not offended.

  5. Erica B. says:

    For the Michael Kors ad, the white couple are obviously on safari and the black man is clearly their guide. Being a guide is his job. Clearly not “downtrodden”.

    And for the Donna Karan ad, it looks like they’re all riding somewhere, LOL!

    Seriously, people dig real hard to find insensitivity where there is none.

  6. Bie says:

    I think it is very necessary to be able to critique everything and not just accept things at face value @ Erica B.

  7. Mel says:

    I rather like the Michael Kors ad, it does not offend me in the least. The Donna Karan one, while I’m not offended per se, it just looks strange, the juxtaposition is just odd to me.

  8. Savage says:

    Well I mean in the Donna Karan Ad…homegirl looks equally as underfed. I’m so surpirsed at how insensitive this ad is. MK just looks like they’re on a safari, which has been done to death already. And posing in exotic places with natives as props but this goes a tad to far. I’m sure that fit can feed an entire village 6 times over.

  9. Bonifant says:

    Michael Kors ad is fine to me nothing about the black guy screams downtrodden to me.

    I have a vague recollection that the Donna Karen campaign may be a specific initiative like how certain companies have (RED) products. I thought I read somewhere this campaign’s sales would be used to fund a charity which is sole intention is the betterment of Haiti whether building schools, providing clean water, helping ppl to start businesses. So I’m guessing thats why she included those guys. She didn’t need to but maybe the intention was to provoke thought and prompt ppl to ask who are they, why are they in the ad and as such continue dialogue about Haiti and keep it at the forefront of people’s thoughts because the country is by not means ‘fixed’ there is a LOT of work to be done to help.

  10. T1K says:

    I think any designer should be very careful when doing like this, for this very reason, they are people out there looking at everything through a magnifying glass, looking to find something to say or stir up. The Michael Kors add is ok, but I can’t lie and say when I saw the D.K add my eyes didn’t immediately went pass the model, I think it’s kinda pushing it… I don’t know what’s the “story” so I won’t judge.

  11. Dinka Don says:


    If they’re in the Carribean why wouldn’t they use black people in the background?! I think the ad looks great! It’s not like they have starving kids in the background! Who says they’re downtrodden?? Who determined that!?

    What if they had Asian-inspired designs in Tokyo? Would you all say that Asians in the background was racist or offensive? Or Hispanics in the background in Spain? G.T.F.O.H.

  12. jasmine says:

    dinka doN shut up!!!so you mean to tell me that you can shoot a photo in africa, not use an african model, but exploit the natives. YOU NEED TO TAKE SEVERAL SEATS!!!!…I CANT EVEN!!!

  13. jasmine says:


  14. Ebony says:

    Michael Kors ad is tasteful. You fully understand it as a tour guided by an African. Donna’s on the other hand looks as though they are just in the background.

  15. Jihan says:

    at least they didn’t put the black girl in the zebra print like they usually do? Anyway, we know how much designers value people of color…

  16. The thing about Donna is that she is spending a ton of time in Haiti and doing a lot with the local artisians down there. But this question was raised some time ago well 2 weeks ago, but I don’t understand, I think Donna could have used a strapping young Haitian man, and women to model these clothes. I get that Adriana is “ethnic” but why not find a Great looking Haitian Model, and put her there? I would have said something, if i was working with her team.

    As far as Michael Kors, he travels a lot too, but I would love to see these designers giving back a little, or at least be a little more vocal about it. It seems like cultural designs have been a trend which is fine, but if you are influenced by Native Prints, use the Native people, or do the shoot in that area, so the money goes back to that community. But I get it, he is using that person as a guide on a safari, technically there are White Africans and he could have used them as well. But then i think had he not used any black people then people would be up and arms about him doing African inspired prints and not using black folks in there. That just leads me up to doing a bonafide shoot with Black Africans as the muse.

  17. Also it’s important to know that Whites exist in these areas, but the inspiration is from Black Tribes that have been there much longer. But I have to agree with some folks, it’s okay to talk about and converse about, but then it’s like some people look for anything to complain about. I personally feel like If you don’t like it don’t support them. I don’t think either one of them have a mean heart, or saw anything wrong with it, but of course when it’s dealing with Blacks people are in an uproar, but if it’s another culture nobody has an issue with it.

  18. Lucia says:

    dA kenzo ad does not bother me but i am jst wanderin wen are they ever gonna use a Real black women on these so called High fashion African its about Africa not european Ads if u hv not notice they always use a white girl to neutralise the blck in these high fashion ads it never blck wit blck or any other race always da same

  19. Missus says:

    That MK zebra dress is Hotness! He sold me with the ad! And I’m in advertising! As for D.K. It just couldve been done with a clearer storyline. It reads to me “I’m hot…and their poor townfolk I had to hitch a ride with”. They don’t add to the story in a positive way.

  20. Liz says:

    where is the caribbean in this? it looks very sterotypical “african” themed. maybe if there was a beach or some palm trees i could see the caribbean they are referencing but otherwise i do not see it. the ads are not offense. sometimes people look for something to be offended about. get over it….

  21. Claire says:

    @Liz the Donna Karan ad centered around Haiti which is in the Caribbean, and of course has heavy African influences, hence the term Afro-Caribbean.

  22. Madpet says:

    Hell yeah these bother me!!! Especially the Donna Karen ad. Key words, “Donna Karen NEW YORK”. How about you shoot your ads in New York!!!

  23. Englishvers says:

    The Kors ad is not particularly offensive, at least not amongst artists, however, I find Karan’s ad unsettling.

  24. I found this post questionable Claire. What do you see when you see these photo’s? You may want to question how you see black people and through who’s eyes have you developed your prospective or opinion. Those black people look like they are maybe workers or employees. That’s the back ground I observe when I travel to Jamaica, I also observe a similar latin background when in Costa Rica or Cancun. I think it’s important to always show us in the best light. Anything else is counter productive to me, you and the rest of us. IF YOU FEEL ME?

  25. Mingas says:

    Maybe it’s not a crime but … it’s … kinda disturbing… And I am african and live in Africa.
    I’ll cut off some slack to MK cuz we can see where he was goin (hopefully) but DK.. no. Its disturbing…

  26. Claire says:

    @Fashionistachic Not sure what you mean. I didn’t say the people in the background were anything but black and that they looked either sad or contemplative. People assume a lot when I put these posts up without actually reading my words; and also attach a point of view or opinion to me that I never stated. I simply put these photos up and asked if you guys were bothered by it…nothing more, nothing less. And I think the blog goes over and above to present positive, beautiful, and brilliant images of people of color, from Bombshells to celebs.

  27. Godiva says:

    they’re in Africa…there should be some Black ppl in the shot if that is whAt they are trying to portray correct…i think we should be offended if there were NO blacks in an African shoot… I dont find it offensive at all….what should we be offended about?? It gives that shot LIFE…and essence of reality! Its art! and i love it

  28. Jazz says:

    I don’t find anything wrong with either. I wish people would come off it for once! We as a race are FAR too sensitive. I find it beautiful that they’re capturing the natives. Come on they’re just riding, its not like they’re shackled and bound.

  29. Dee says:

    I recall this being brought to my attention about a month ago. The MK looks fine. As for DK, my question back then is my question now: if it were a model of color(eg.Chanel Iman or Joan Smalls) would it have mattered?

  30. binks says:

    Why do other people always want to tell others how to feel? Let people process things for themselves if your not offended then great but if someone is then let them speak. Personally the MK ad isn’t bad but the DK one did give me pause because the ran,
    dom natives in the back look like props. And I agree with Jasmine above I often feel like people use non-white culture for inspiration,favor and style but rarely have the natives in the forefront of ads and campaigns

  31. I’m not offended and the people don’t really look sad to me… The only thing I find odd is the white people a little over dressed for safari. lol

  32. Tas says:

    SMH. Donna Karan is wrong period

  33. Kay says:

    I’m Nigerian, and I’m not offended. If it were up to me, I would have black and white African models wearing the clothes. But hey, I guess that’s just me!

  34. MP says:

    The Michael Kors ad is not bothering me; perhaps that’s because the man with binoculars does not look pitiful and there’s someone else of another color in the background with him.

    My friends and I reviewed these Donna Karan ads a while back. I wish you had posted more of the photos from the campaign. They bother me and are not excused by the better work she may have done for Haiti. The (Haitian?) people are in the shots in such a way that in at least one shot I didn’t even register their presence at first. Perhaps it’s powerful social commentary on the position of Haiti in the world. Or perhaps it’s a really tacky ad. I don’t understand how people NOT wearing Donna Karan, sadly fading into the scenery behind a model wearing Donna Karan, makes people feel good about the clothes.

  35. B. says:

    The Michael Kors ad doesn’t bother me at all, the guide is dressed nicely, and really, it would be weird if he were posed as if he wasn’t doing his job. Safari guides have to be on point at all times, got to be looking out for dangerous animals. Haha, yep, all that crossed my mind from just briefly looking at the ad.

    The Donna Karen New York one is much more questionable. Ok, I believe that they were trying to make it look like everyone in the picture is friends with each other and that they’re all riding together, and to be honest, I don’t see poverty when I look at them because they look well and washed and all of that, but I don’t like that they seem to fade into the background in comparison to the model. I don’t like when photographers/designers/marketers make any man (or woman) the object in the background of a shoot.

  36. The Michael Kors add shouldnt be apart of the discussion because it was done in much more tasteful way than Donna’s. He showed a couple wearing his safari themed ensembles while on a safari with a black guide. Which is realistic.

    Donna’s ad? Im not affected by the “race” thing. What I dont quite understand is the point of the glamourous model posing in front of what appears to be refugees. Whether they were black, white, purple or green…Its a little disturbing and odd.

  37. NikkiBellaRay says:

    Lol omg I have learnt to laugh these things off, like seriously, I’m Afro-Caribbean and ummm DK no hunni! There are so many ways she could have worked this ad and take it to the next level. If you want to give an Afro-Caribbean theme go full force, don’t half @$$ it. There is absolutely no creativity in this ad, I’m sorry, no motivation.

  38. TJ says:

    smdh. Really michael kors? As many black people rock the hell out of michael kors logo bags? He should know better than that shit. I’m done.

  39. Georgia says:

    I would recommend to the folks who say that people who question these images are looking too hard for something that isn’t there to read a book about the history of representation–there are dozens, many specifically about photographic representation. Perhaps that would put the questioning into context. These images don’t exist in a void.

  40. infiniti.hb says:

    I do wish ppl would stop with the race card…in case you haven’t noticed the whole world is way too diverse for ppl to become biggots. Get over your BS racially motivated hate campaign. Of course those ppl got paid…Im sure that when they were cashing their modeling check they weren’t bitchin’ about any of that. You act as though the black people in the photo were forced there. Get a life.

  41. Rosay says:

    Im Haitian and wasnt offended by DK’s ad…people are taking this too seriously and too far…The ”models” look like they chillin in the background.

  42. lanenabuena says:

    I agree with you Erica B, keep it moving…

  43. Coconut says:

    After spotting the first ad, one thought came to mind, “Black people as props……..once again.” This is clearly the case in the second ad as the black man on top of the car is definitely not a model- nor is he dressed as such [an indication of his model status]. Aren’t you just tired of hearing about racial problems in fashion? Can it just end? I’m exhausted!

  44. Anonymous says:

    I think it is too far fetched. Just because there are black people in the background it is supposed to bother people?
    It’s supposed to be just a theme. I wouldn’t be bothered if Naomi Campbell, or any other black model was posing and in the background would be sad looking white people.

    I thought this was a fashion blog site, and not a site that writes so much about racism (in my opinion).

  45. saliana says:

    people need to look up adrianna lima’s background and they may not be judgmental

  46. MochaBelle says:

    These ads are simply not creative. The Kenzo ad is visually appealing, but not a novel idea. Hopefully these designers will revisit these ideas and do something innovative with regard to model selection, photo shoot themes, etc. The point is to highlight the clothes and only the Kenzo ad allows you to experience the richness of the textiles used. Fashion needs a surge of innovation, fresh ideas and new models of color to give it a boost.

  47. Claire says:

    @Anonymous this is a site about multiculturals in fashion, particularly people of African descent. When there ‘s a discussion or controversy in the industry in regards to people of color , we report about it. Simple. We do 8 posts a day about celebrity style or what to wear… Suddenly we do one post (in a month) that showcases an issue we *didn’t* create and all of a sudden we’re “all about racism.” Please.

  48. JR says:

    I like the ads. Donna Karan’s is hot. And the African’s fit the color pallete of the ad. It is thoughtful and artistic.

  49. Na says:

    The ad’s don’t really bother me, It just seems like the white people are on vacation. But I would have been nice if they would have use black models and/or a different theme…

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