A prominent fashion designer behind a $1,190 pair of sweatpants has been lambasted by some fashion and Black history experts for what they say is cultural appropriation.
The gray Balenciaga sweatpants, which feature what looks like the top of a pair of boxers peeking out from the waistband, sparked controversy after a TikTok user posted a brief video on September 2 of the pants at what appeared to be a store.
“This feels racist,” one individual said on the video posted by Tiktok user @mr200m__ as they grabbed the Trompe-L’Oeil pants. “They’ve woven the boxers inside the trouser.”
Marquita Gammage, an associate professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Northridge, was also disturbed by the Balenciaga item and what she sees as its exploitation of “Black culture with the hopes of securing major profits,” she told CNN by email.
Gammage is the author of “Cultural Appropriation as ‘Agency Reduction'” which was published in the International Journal of Africana Studies in 2018. In it, she writes about the misappropriation of Black culture and how it undermines the ingenuity, functionality and beauty of Black cultural expressions while simultaneously delegitimizing Blacks experiences of injustices for capital gain, she said.
While sagging pants — which often involve jeans or sweatpants lowered past the waist, with boxer underwear exposed at the top of the waistline — have been popularized in hip hop culture, the style has also “been used to criminalize Blacks, especially Black males as thugs and a threat to American society,” Gammage said.
“Balenciaga men’s Trompe-L’Oeil sweatpants in red triggers immediate concern given the grotesque similarity to the iconic African American hip hop aesthetic worn by Black Americans for decades that has resulted in the imprisonment and death of Black men,” Gammage told CNN over email. “The trousers have commercial cultural appropriation written all over them; branded with the name Balenciaga.”
When asked about the controversy caused by Trompe-L’Oeil pants, Ludivine Pont, chief marketing officer for Balenciaga, told CNN via email “in many of our collections, we combine different wardrobe pieces into a single garment, such as denim jeans layered over tracksuit pants, cargo shorts merged with jeans and button-up shirts layered over t-shirts.”
“These Trompe L’Oeil trousers were an extension of that vision,” she added.
Anthony Childs is just one tragic example of how sagging pants led to death.
On February 5, 2019, Childs was spotted running past a police cruiser in Shreveport, Louisiana, clutching his sagging shorts. He was in violation of the city’s “saggy pants” ordinance passed in 2007, the Washington Post reported. A violation could result in a maximum fine of $100 and up to eight hours of community service, the Post added.
As Childs ran, a police officer followed after, noticing the 31-year-old had a gun on him. The police officer shot eight times, three of which struck Childs while he was on the ground, the Post reported. The coroner later said Childs died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest.
By June 2019, following outrage over Childs’ death, “the Shreveport City Council finally scrapped this unconstitutional and discriminatory ordinance,” Katie Schwartzmann, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, wrote at the time.
A similar sagging pants law in Opa-locka, Florida, was repealed a year ago. The original 2007 city ordinance said that men could receive civil citations for wearing saggy pants with exposed underwear in city buildings and parks. In 2013, the law was expanded to include women and public spaces.
“Sagging attire has been consequential for African Americans; yet companies like Balenciaga seek to capitalize off of Blacks and Black cultural styles while failing to challenge systematic racism that criminalizes Blacks and Black clothing trends,” Gammage said.
Fashion designer Stella Jean is no stranger to seeing Black culture turned into currency.
Jean is a creative director and co-founder of We are Made in Italy, a fashion and social awareness initiative that promotes the work of designers of color.
“Black culture is so often sampled, but rarely ever cited. And beyond giving credit where credit is overdue, the payout for those who have created and selflessly shared their genius, creativity, risk-taking, and innovation, rarely if ever comes,” Jean said. “In Black culture, there’s a thing we refer to as the ‘Black tax.’ This refers to the extra amount of effort, sweat, and nonsense you’re going to have to put forth and put up with to get even half of the success that someone else with your talent and skills who happens to be white might attain.”