Earlier this week, A.P.C. founder Jean Touitou word-vomited a rather offensive N-word-laced monologue upon an unsuspecting fashion crowd at the brand’s Fall 2015 menswear presentation. Presenting his notoriously ascetic and restrained French designs for editors and buyers assembled, Style.com reports that half-way into the presentation, the self-proclaimed “creative genius” led out four rakish models dressed in sweatpants, oversized topcoats and custom Timberlands. Heralding A.P.C.'s collaboration with the cult-favorite footwear company, Touitou glibly began to explain his vision:
“I call this one look 'Last N*ggas in Paris'. Why? Because it's the sweet spot when the hood — the hood — meets Bertolucci's movie Last Tango in Paris. So that's 'N*ggas in Paris' and Last N*ggas in Paris. [Nervous laughter from audience.] Oh, I am glad some people laughed with me. Yes, I mean, it's nice to play with the strong signifiers. The Timberland here is a very strong ghetto signifier. In the ghetto, it is all the Timberlands, all the big chain. Not at the same time — never; it's bad taste. So we designed Timberlands with Timberland…"
As it turns out, Timberland has a very different creative vision from Touitou and yesterday released a statement (as seen on Fashionista) severing ties with the French fashion label over these incendiary remarks. President Stewart Whitney stated:
"Yesterday we became aware of the offensive remarks made by Jean Touitou during his A.P.C. Fall Menswear show in Paris. We have chosen to immediately terminate our involvement with the A.P.C. brand, including the footwear collaboration we had planned for this fall.
Simply stated, this kind of language and approach is in complete contrast with our values. Timberland seeks to collaborate with designers and brands who are at the forefront of lifestyle trends; equally important, they must also share our values. We will not tolerate offensive language or racial slurs of any kind being associated with the Timberland brand."
Before Whitney's decision came down yesterday, however, Touitou attempted to write away his crude use of the racial epithet during the presentation by relying on his friendship with rapper Kanye West as exemption from critique. As he wrote in an email exchange with Style.com: "I am friends with Kanye [West, who recorded "N*ggas in Paris" with Jay Z], and he and I presented a joint collection at the same place, one year ago, and that this thing is only a homage to our friendship. As a matter of fact, when I came up with this idea, I wrote to him, with the picture of the look and the name I was giving to it, and he wrote back immediately saying something like, 'I love this vibe.'"
However, what Touitou fails to recognize about using the word "n*gga" — in a bungled attempt to honor the ever-increasing cross-cultural influence of hip hop on an international audience — is that it at once panders to the idea of a black consumer and simultaneously insults them.
Touitou cast no black male models for the presentation — which, in retrospect, may have actually tipped the show into a state of absurdity — yet still cites black men as muses.
The designer extracts surface observations about "ghetto" life and truncates that experience into the trivial incarnation of a shoe (albeit a pretty sick one). He designs from a distance, never fully engaging with the origin of the racial epithet nor his brand's proximity to it, but instead uses his relationship and one-time collaboration with Kanye West as his conduit. Touitou undermines his relationship with West in this, though, using a loaded language as homage.
West’s compliance with the situation is another example of the rapper’s troubling (dis)enchantment with the fashion world. He is either kowtowing to its glamorous pressures or ranting over the mistreatment and prejudice he endures as a black would-be designer.
Ultimately what emerges again is fashion using race as bait for vacuous marketing schemes. As reported, moments before unveiling “Last N*ggas in Paris,” Touitou promised the audience he wouldn't "deliver a big shock" with this Timberland collaboration — and yet he still relied heavily on spectacle to shill and sell product.
Of course, this time no one was buying it.
Marjon Carlos is a style and culture writer for Fusion who boasts a strong turtleneck game and opinions on the subjects of fashion, gender, race, pop culture, and men's footwear.