Ava DuVernay and Theaster Gates to Co-Chair Prada’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council

MILAN — Prada is not taking any chances and has turned to two major personalities and activists “to elevate voices of color within the company and the fashion industry at-large.”

The fashion house revealed Wednesday that artist and activist Theaster Gates and award-winning writer, director and producer Ava DuVernay will co-chair the Prada Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council.

“Prada is committed to cultivating, recruiting and retaining diverse talent to contribute to all departments of the company,” said Miuccia Prada, co-chief executive officer with her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, and lead creative director of the luxury brand. “In addition to amplifying voices of color within the industry we will help ensure that the fashion world is reflective of the world in which we live, and we are thrilled to be working with longtime collaborators Ava DuVernay and Theaster Gates on this important initiative. We look forward to working with the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council to help us grow not only as a company but also as individuals.”

The designer last month approached the subject of cultural appropriation and freedom of speech — and of thought — after recent accusations of racism against the brand, which her company has vehemently denied.

In December, Prada faced online accusations that animal-like figurines and charms in its stores and windows evoked blackface. The group subsequently issued a statement saying it “abhors racist imagery” and vowed to withdraw the items from “display and circulation,” while explaining that the figures are “fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre” and known as Pradamalia. The brand nonetheless pledged to improve its “diversity training.”

The council will advise Prada as it “invests in diverse talent development and expands opportunities for young students of color in the fashion industry,” the company said. To this end, the council “will include the voices of prominent academic and cultural experts from high-level social institutions.”

Prada and the council will also partner with universities and organizations to “spearhead internship and apprenticeship initiatives in diverse communities to close the inclusion gap in the fashion industry.” This includes sponsoring scholarships and training programs in the U.S. and in every Prada office globally.

“My work amplifies the voices that have been absent from broad cultural conversations, and I am happy to partner with Prada to advise on processes that will make the company and industry more reflective of the world today,” said Gates, who is also the executive director of Chicago-based Rebuild Foundation, an arts, education and cultural development organization committed to transforming urban communities.

Gates has worked in the past with Prada, which he defined as an “ally in some of the most ambitious artistic projects” he has undertaken, including the launch of “The Black Image Corporation,” and expressed his desire to “achieve meaningful impact throughout the fashion industry.” Fondazione Prada staged “The Black Image Corporation” exhibit curated by Gates between Sept. 20 last year and Jan. 14 this year in its Osservatorio spaces in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. In 2016, Fondazione Prada hosted “True Value” — the first exhibition by Gates.

In November, the inaugural edition of Prada Mode ahead of Art Basel Miami offered a packed schedule with cultural and art programming, including a site-specific “intervention” by Gates, who was joined by the Black Monks of Mississippi for a live performance on closing night.

DuVernay is known for her directorial work on the Oscar-winning historical drama “Selma,” the Oscar-nominated criminal justice documentary, “13th,” and Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” which made her the highest grossing African-American female director in domestic box office history. “DuVernay’s work amplifies the stories of people of color while emphasizing the role that racial identity plays in society, culture and history,” Prada said. In 2013, for the fifth part of Miu Miu’s Tales short series, the Italian brand tapped DuVernay to shoot “The Door,” which featured Gabrielle Union, Alfre Woodard, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Adepero Oduye and singer-songwriter Goapele. She has also worn Prada on several red carpets, including at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

Prada’s Diversity and Inclusion Council will complement the work of Prada Group’s Corporate Social Responsibility department, which has been focused on sustainability, scientific research and culture, and together, the council plans to host a conference to discuss improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Prada’s announcement comes on the heels of Marco Bizzarri’s pledge to set up “a full program of scholarships in major cities, such as New York, Nairobi, Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, which will facilitate an increase of different communities within the creative office.” Gucci’s president and CEO told WWD on Tuesday that the company “will also be discussing these important initiatives with leaders from different communities in order to develop a constructive and appropriate framework. I don’t want to be divided, I want to invite everyone to join us.” Gucci faced accusations last week that a balaclava-style sweater available on its online shop and physical stores evoked blackface.

This story was reported by WWD and originally appeared on WWD.com.

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