They Said/We said: The scoop on Donna Karan’s controversial new ad

Donna Karan’s Spring 2012 collection was heavily inspired by Haiti. Karan’s been spending a lot of time in the Caribbean country doing charity work since last year’s earthquake, and uses her celebrity to raise money for her own charity and several others. All of the print ads for the collection were shot in Haiti, and they’re rich in the country’s culture but—surprise, surprise!—sources are claiming one of the pictures is insensitive and even racist.

The controversial picture has Adriana Lima in front, glowing in an olive-coloured jumpsuit and statement necklace, with two Haitian men lurking in the shadows in the background. The complaints again these ads range from the choice of using a white model in Haitian-based photos and the placement of Haitian men in the shadows of an otherwise glamorous photo, to the picture drawing attention to the huge divide between a luxe fashion brand and the Haitian population. None of the pictures make direct reference to Haiti’s extreme poverty, but the juxtaposition is very clear.

Making people confront poverty while flipping through fashion magazines? We’re not sure if its going to prompt people to buy.


Telegraph UK: “For a designer intent on drawing attention to the plight of the Haitians, it is a contrast between the poverty-stricken locals, and the successful high-end brand, that is perhaps most unwelcome.” [Telegraph UK]

The Cut: “A Huffington Post commenter complains, ‘Using the downtrodden as props for high-fashion shoots smacks of completely insensitive imperialistic attitudes.’ [The Cut]

Jezebel: “Nonetheless, the juxtaposition of luxury clothing — Donna Karan sells $2,000 dresses — and the poorest country in the Western hemisphere is troubling, and perhaps undercuts the message Karan thinks she’s sending.” [Jezebel]


Paige Dzenis, associate online editor: “Why… Why would you even do this? Oh, right: for all the publicity!”