The monkeys, with oversized red lips and dark skin have been likened to “racist caricatures historically used to dehumanise black people”, according to a commentary in The Business of Fashion.
Some social media users pointed out a resemblance to golliwogs, the fictional children’s book character created by Kate Upton in the late 19th century, which brands worldwide have avoided using in marketing.
The ‘racist’ monkey character was part of the Pradamalia range of small accessories like keychains and toys featuring cartoon characters.
Prada said in a statement that the creatures were “not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface”.
“Prada Group never had the intention of offending anyone and we abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery. In this interest, we will withdraw all of the characters in question from display and circulation.”
The Business of Fashion described the company’s design as “at best tone-deaf, at worst racist and exploitative”.
Some people in the retail industry may well ask how Prada released such a product after the high-profile case of H&M having to apologise after releasing marketing images of a black child wearing a hoodie with the text “Coolest monkey in the jungle” in January, which prompted a similar chorus of disapproval.
H&M immediately withdrew the hoodies from sale globally and recycled them, but not before some stores in South Africa had to be closed temporarily after protests and vandalism.
And just last month, Dolce & Gabbana was forced to apologise to Asians customers around the world for a video campaign mocking a Chinese model trying to eat pasta with chopsticks, followed by an extraordinarily racist rant on Twitter by one of the label’s founders (which he later claimed – to widespread skepticism – was the result of his account being hacked).
Facebook user Chinyere Ezie (who took the photo of the Prada monkey used with this story) was one black American woman outraged by the product. Her post had been shared more than 10,000 times by Monday morning and received some 4300 comments.
“Today after returning to NYC after a very emotional visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, including an exhibit on blackface, I walked past Prada’s Soho storefront only to be confronted with the very same racist and denigrating #blackface imagery,” she wrote.
“I entered the store with a coworker, only to be assaulted with more and more bewildering examples of their Sambo-like imagery. When I asked a Prada employee whether they knew they had plastered blackface imagery throughout their store, in a moment of surprising candor I was told that *a black employee had previously complained about blackface at Prada, but he didn’t work there anymore.*
“History cannot continue to repeat itself. Black America deserves better. And we demand better.”
The products were withdrawn from window displays – and sales – within hours of Ezie’s post on Friday.
This story first appeared on sister site Inside Retail Asia.
Access exclusive analysis, locked news and reports with Inside Retail Weekly. Subscribe today and get our premium print publication delivered to your door every week.