J. Crew Bali Offensive Style Guide

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They just love controversy, don’t they? The J. Crew marketing team, as always, gets into some kind of trouble with their style guides! Remember that nail polish thing they did a while ago (now I see I was getting all hot about that boy’s pedicure for no reason)? Well, they’re back with yet another disputable presentation:

J. Crew’s June 2012 Style Guide revolves around a certain Bali Adventure. However, the J. Crew marketing dept thought that a picture with a Bali Temple wouldn’t transmit the right style info. So they threw in a handful of local kids for the flavor!

Now – if Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt would’ve been their cover stars, this could have been less offensive. Please, J. Crew, organize some kind of focus groups when you’re issuing your smart style guides! People may not get the right idea when you’re promoting photos like these! Actually, people get all the wrong ideas instead! And no, not everything is permitted in the name of fashion! (thank you, Ellington, for showing this to me! Although it saddened me, I hope the negative impact of this particular style guide will teach them to do better for future issues!)

J Crew June 2012 Bali Style Guide


#1 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 9:27 am

Thanks ever so for posting this Kpriss!
I really felt a tad disgusted when I received this JCrew catalogue in the post. It just reeked of Colonialism and using the kids as some kind of exotic “other” fashion prop put me off.
I am to be honest rather tired of this fashion pictorial trope of using natives in native cultural dress as props for the white Western models to pose around. It just jank, and I do hope that JCrew learns from this.
Have you heard if anything what they had said in response to people’s outrage?

#2 ana on 05.28.12 at 11:03 am

I respectfully disagree with you girls. it seems manufactured outrage to me. Neither I see it as objetification of locals(considering that they paid them for the pictures). We live at the age of globalization and JC wanted to show it. Macys is doing the same in Brazil ,I think.
People have been taking pictures with locals since forever .
and I really don´t think they will stop buying the articles they liked because of this. I dont buy JC but it wouldn´t affect the least my decision to purchase.

#3 Riana on 05.28.12 at 11:23 am

I am with ana in this matter. Plus I fail to see why this could be less offensive with Angelina and Brad?
To me this cover looks more like catalogue for a travel company than a clothing company to be honest. Since Bali is a very popular place to visit.

#4 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 11:30 am

ana, you may respectfully disagree but it does not make this kind of imaging alright. So what if they paid them? They should! But what is off about this is that Western (read white) fashion houses, incorporations have been using and doing this to people of colour for ages. It still smacks of colonialism and them making an ‘other’ of the young kids.
And I for one am beyond tired of the idea of people taking pictures with locals… even that phrase smacks of condescension.
One never if hardly ever sees people of colour going to lets say Denmark and taking photos with little white Danish kids in their national dress do they?
This is not manufactured outrage, this has been a topic of discussion and discourse in many a university class.

#5 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 11:37 am

I have yet to see it done with Brad and Angelina to sell something unless you are talking about UNICEF work, or the photos they take with their own children?
Two different situations.

This making the ” exotic” read non white accessible and sellable has occurred in books, “Eat Pray Love”, and films “The Best Exotic Hotel” to name but two but there are more. Always showing the white person as coming to learn from and greet the natives… yes this annoys me as person of colour because it happens a lot. And it is not cricket.

#6 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 11:41 am

Also it is not about not buying what JCrew makes or sells. It is about being just a tad aware of what they are promoting.

#7 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 11:47 am

And before anyone says anything about this being politically correct please read and consider this quote.

“Disdain for “political correctness” is often positioned as a concern that some important truth is not being spoken for fear of offending someone. But that concern is nothing but smoke and mirrors. To invoke “political correctness” is really to be concerned about loss of power and privilege. It is about disappointment that some “ism” that was ingrained in our society, so much that citizens of privilege could express the bias through word and deed without fear of reprisal, has been shaken loose. Charging “political correctness” generally means this: “I am comfortable with my privilege. I don’t want to have to question it. I don’t want to have to think before I speak or act. I certainly don’t wish to inconvenience myself for the comfort of lesser people (whoever those people may be–women, people of color, people with disabilities, etc.)”

#8 ana on 05.28.12 at 11:50 am

I personally never ever EVER took a picture WITH a native while traveling( and gurl, I did travel the world) BUT I do take pictures of them ,always with authorization, because I want to teach my children there is beauty everywhere.
But that doesnt mean that what other people are doing is wrong.
If you come to Europe you will see Japanese/Chinese people taking pictures with locals just ,errrhhh, everywhere? Are they racist/imperialists too? well, maybe their governments are but surely not each one of them. It just an habit and I really dont believe people do it with the intention of being “superior” to locals.

#9 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 11:56 am

ana I never said you took a photo with natives. but this practice and how this is done for ads, films and books is just not on. it has a history, a long history of colonialism, projecting the image of the other onto someone, and Orientalism. And it is great that you wish to teach your children that there is beauty every where. But this idea and practice has been going on for a long long time, for the use of history, travelogues, fashion and the shilling of products.
Its nice that you have a cavet per se and you try to educate your children but there a lot of people ou there who do not.

#10 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 11:59 am

Yes this has been a focus of study for me in my postgrad, and yes this attitude really does jank me off.
As a museum worker we try to present things in context and with the proper subtext and we mos def have to be considerate in what we do, how it is signed and presented.

#11 ana on 05.28.12 at 1:52 pm

While I am prone to agree with everything you said Ellington, I also think that it greatly depends on the situation, the purpose and from who it is coming from( Im not sure this construction is correct but…).If was a picture of Ron Limbaugh or Margareth Tatcher I definitely would point it as opportunist/racist/imperialist/they deserv to burn in hell. I fail to see that in this picture of JC.
And, again with my deepest respects, I find a bit proselytizing/patronizing to say: “oh, don´t forget I own a degree on what I am talking about”. I say it because I did it too in the past and most of people do it BUT we also know that a thesis can always be refuted with an antithesis .I am not saying it is easy or in anyway trying to reduce your surely notable efforts,please don´t misunderstand me. I am just saying that new arguments can always be brought into discussion and what was considered wrong yesterday can be right tomorrow.

#12 ana on 05.28.12 at 2:07 pm

Would you Ellington consider the work of Gauguin as rac!st, se*ist, mysoginistic?

#13 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 2:15 pm

ana, I did not mention the fact that I have studied this subject to say yes I know more than you. I mentioned it to say to you and to refute to you that this is not “manufactured outrage” it is real. This is and has been a topic of serious discourse. And no I do not think that the extremes of a select group of racists negates the “light heartedness” of another because hey they are not trying to be superior, they just want to take a photo of the pretty natives. But this kind of treatment be just light hearted fashion shots or ignorant racist misguided anthropology is not something that can be “right” tomorrow. You seem to wish to warrant various shades of grey to this discussion. Its all okay in some situations. Well ana it is not. People of colour have been subjected to this for a long time, be it light hearted or no, it still does not make it right. And thanks ever so for considering my arguments as “notable efforts”… really.

#14 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 2:22 pm

Oh and why on Earth did JCrew not use Balinese models on the cover with the kids? Or is it because people of colour do not travel but only white people do?

Yes ana, this does get my gander up, big time because I have seen, read,and watched in media and experienced myself this kind of tropes, memes, attitudes and behaviour time and time again.

#15 ana on 05.28.12 at 2:32 pm

I DO agree it is real, but I think that is NOT the right situation to aply. (i still have a comment waiting for consideration …)
Once you start looking at artists who behaved badly and disqualifying them for it, it becomes clear how many brilliant minds turned out to be horrible people. Hemmingway?Woody Allen? Michaelangelo?Gauguin?

The question is a tricky one. Is an artwork made by a racist inherently racist? Or is mulling over the artist’s personal beliefs overlooking the image in front of you?

I am not saying talent allows one to ignore the social code but historical ingenuity can compensate for personal faults.

did I offend you saying you had notable efforts doing a thesis? My english must be twisted because I honestly meant the opposite! please forgive me, from the bottom of my heart.

#16 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 2:50 pm

Well ana whether you agree this is the right situation or not is moot. This is being discussed heatedly all over the interwebs and a lot of people are not comfortable with these JCrew images. Sometimes the buck has to stop somewhere.
What I am saying that this is real, it still happens and it is just beyond tired and janky.
And yes if someone is racist,homophobic, heterophobic se*ist, misogynistic, misandric, or just an all round misanthrope then YES the proof as they say is in the pudding and their work and actions should be scrutinized. These types of actions thoughts and feelings cannot be truly divorced from the source, they are there. Nothing is created in a vacuum, for every action there is reaction and a cause and effect.
No one can chose to say overlook these things and just chalk them up to simple foibles but nothing is every simple ana… nothing. It comes from somewhere deep down and if you chose to gloss over and take a laissez-faire attitude to it then so be it.
I am tired of discussing this with you.
laters and pax to you and yours.


p.s. I accept your apology regarding my “notable efforts”.

#17 keiKo on 05.28.12 at 7:19 pm

Most models are subjected to some form of exploitation which is real to them – that seems to be the nature of the industry.
The Indonesian Government would have been throughly consulted on how their country was portrayed to the world – this is not colonialism / imperialism – it is a catalogue that is for the American consumer for clothes & maybe tourism to Bali / South East Asia.
On a final note – back when I was a teen hanging out at the northern beaches – the Japanese tourists occassionally asked for our photograph & how to surf because we where the “natives”. My friends & I always throught it was a bit of a joke – nothing more / nothing less.

#18 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 7:30 pm

So its all good then.

#19 Ellington on 05.28.12 at 7:55 pm

Yes I would ana.
The art is lovely but when one considers the context and that is the crux of the matter yes it is racist and colonial.
Just because people get paid,or the government in power gives its permission or gets a pay off, or the people of the time did not know any better per se does not excuse these things and it does not mean that no one was exploited. What bothers me is that in this “enlightened” time this stuff still goes on and some people just seem to think its okay.
It is not.

#20 ana on 05.29.12 at 1:05 am

Well, I am curious because what you considered “a lot of people” were more like 1 in 50. Most of the comments I read everywhere said that ” is a non issue”.
We can find a conspiration behind every stone if we look for it, for sure.
But sometime a picture is a picture is a picture is a picture…
I thought it was a wonderful discussion. Thank you for bringing your arguments .Wish you the best of days :-)

#21 Ellington on 05.29.12 at 6:55 am

I guess it depends on where the comments were posted ana and what sites you were looking at.
I was looking at some fashion sites and some the deal with racial discourse. And I also look at tone and intent.
And no I do not personally subscribe to that “Freudianesque’ turn of phrase I am more of an Jungian.

#22 Ellington on 05.29.12 at 6:56 am

And no its not a conspiracy… really?

#23 ana on 05.29.12 at 8:29 am

I didnt say IT IS. I said ” we can find one…” it is different.
Like for instance, I can argue the picture invokes some kind of inverted racist propaganda or I can argue that while you see it as one( the artist/photographer) showing Europeans to be holy people I see the show of dark-skinned people to be the holy, like Gauguin did.Even more that they are in front of a temple….
Perhaps the artist made art about himself , proyecting his ego on the model´s image and became art itself ?? There are a myriad of options. I just dont think the photographer even bother to consider his options. it is just a catalogue. it is not art and it was not meant to generate polemic.
I just see it as a picture , and not even a very good one, technically.

#24 Ellington on 05.29.12 at 11:39 am

ana, in all this time, you have belittled my arguments by saying, that this is “manufactured outrage”, calling my ideas a notable efforts and now you use the term ‘We can find a conspiracy behind every stone”.
I am just referencing you, and by saying such things you are implying that it not a big deal and that I am making something out of nothing, this was also pointed out to me by you telling me that it was 1 in 50 who did not like this image. Yes this is what I have inferred from your response to me.
I am all for a good discussion and if people disagree with me that is copacetic, but what I will not stand for is someone trying to belittle what it is that I am saying or tell or say that it is not that important.
I am not prone to hyperbole or hyperbolic situations. I do think that this ad campaign by JCrew, a lot of fashion shoots and for that matter some of the art and artists that you mentioned are not as considerate as they could and should be. And as an aside Gauguin did not have a true reverence for the native Tahitians, but I am not going to go into a treatise here about art, sexism, colonialism and racism. I have neither the time nor the inclination to do so.
What really saddens me deeply is that no one seems to care if it has nothing to do with them or their life or if it does not actually reference them, its all good as long as it does not interfere or taint their privilege.
Yes it is a catalogue, but I am talking about context and how things are presented, and we are inundated with all kinds images daily, and just because it is “just a catalogue” does not make what is presented as simply ok, or by virtue of what it is as not being meant to “generate polemic”.
again pax

#25 ana on 05.29.12 at 3:29 pm

Let me inform you Ellington that I am a latina woman,grandgrand daughter of a black immigrant, my first husband was black as well, two of my daughters are adopted from a 3rd world country. I am an immigrant as well with a minor physical handcap ,who at my first job got my way in a work environment dominated by males(law).Please ask me again if I do know A BIT about prejudice and social matters.
I am not belittling your arguments. I excused myself already for a possible bad wording(english is my 3rd language and I basically learnt it out of the school, surely is in need of improvement.) I am NOT fighting with you. I always found your comments here really well articulated and I have you as an inteligent person. I find beautiful the enthusiasm with which you defend your arguments and I truly believe we need more people fighting against social injustices. As I said before I think it was a beautiful discussion. Thanks for spending your time bringing your opinion.

#26 Ellington on 05.30.12 at 6:12 am

Nice to know your history/background ana.
Thanks ever so for sharing that.
laters and pax to you and yours.

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