If this is news to you or the words "Jean Touitou" and "A.P.C." are not a part of your vernacular, here's the crash course:
Jean Touitou is a French designer—the founder and creative director for a clothing label called A.P.C. The brand is known best for its excellence in timeless, minimalist separates, primarly menswear but there are A.P.C. threads for women, too. The look is a straightforward Parisian effortlessness that's polished enough to look put together but innocuous enough to allow you to shape-shift seamlessly between the environments of your everyday life.
100% not innocuous, though, were the inflammatory words Jean Touitou used when presenting his Fall/Winter 2015 collection earlier this week.
According to a report from Style.com, Touitou held up a sign reading "LAST NI##@$ IN PARIS" and said:
"I call this one look Last N----s 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----s in Paris' and Last N----s 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…"
Oof. But wait, it keeps going.
Style.com then followed up with Touitou via email to clarify, and the designer wrote back:
"One hip-hop song is called 'N----s in Paris.' One movie is called Last Tango in Paris. I made looks which are a cross-over of those two references: the Timberland shoes and the sweat pants are iconic of hip-hop, and the camel hair color coat, worn with nothing under it, is iconic of that precise movie. I am friends with Kanye [West, who recorded "N----s 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.'"
It reads very "I'm not racist, my best friend is Kanye West!" but even the Kanye pass that Touitou alludes to feels weak. He says something like—something LIKE—"I love this vibe," but who knows what exactly Kanye said? And even then, who knows whether he was just talking about the clothes? Also, of course Ye would love these clothes, they look a lot like what he already wears.
Touitou's flagrant use of the N-word coupled with his reductive (to say the very least) explanation of Timberland boots as a "ghetto signifier" caught him heat from both the hip-hop and fashion communities. Timberland, which had worked with Touitou on a range of collaboration boots for the collection, swiftly terminated its involvement with A.P.C. ensuring the shoes never see the light of day.
Touitou has since apologized for speaking "recklessly using terms that were both ignorant and offensive" and has expressed remorse for his "poor choice of words," issuing a statement that now lives on his Twitter profile.
Unfortunately, this powder keg moment may be indicative of a larger problem lurking in the evolving relationship between hip-hop and fashion. This idea of the "ghetto signifier" pulls from hip-hop culture and reinjects it into high fashion, and Timberland boots aren't the only symptom. Just look to the resurgence of the shower slides and socks look or that period over the summer when all your pop faves took gel and a tooth comb to their baby hair.
The question that always comes up is: When is art appreciating and when is it appropriating? I don't have the answers, but there's certainly no appreciation or respect in the N-word, and especially not when dollars are to be exchanged at the expense of a culture.