Recency bias may make it seem like the Balenciaga controversy is the biggest fashion scandal of 2022, but the truth is that fashion brands got in trouble for all sorts of things this year. Between the implosion of Kanye West’s fashion empire and the release of the documentary “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons,” brands ignited controversy for cultural appropriation, whitewashing, insensitive comments and calls for mass shoplifting.
Here’s the year 2022 in fashion controversies.
Proenza Schouler accused of cultural appropriation
In February, Proenza Schouler was heavily criticized for selling accessories inspired by the Hawaiian lei for nearly $1,500. Hawaiians and others were outspoken in the comments section of the brand’s social media, saying that it was unethical for Proenza Schouler to appropriate the traditional art of making lei, especially to sell at such exorbitant prices.
To the brand’s credit, a representative said that Proenza Schouler had worked with the Hawaiian artist Pattie Hanna and a team of Hawaiian craftsmen, all of whom were “compensated appropriately.” Still, the representative admitted that “we missed the mark” and sales of the lei were discontinued.
Vogue deletes Palestine
After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, supermodel Gigi Hadid posted to her Instagram saying she would be donating money to humanitarian efforts in both Ukraine and Palestine, ending her post with the message “HANDS OFF UKRAINE. HANDS OFF PALESTINE. PEACE. PEACE. PEACE.”
When Vogue wrote about the post, it originally included the full context, including both mentions of Palestine. But a day later, Gawker reported that Palestine had been edited out of the article, misleadingly indicating that Hadid had spoken only about Ukraine. After much criticism on social media, the references to Palestine were put back into the article, ending a three-day controversy with little further explanation.
Dior demands compensation from Valentino
In July, Valentino held a couture show in Rome right next to the Spanish Steps. The only problem: The show blocked access to a Dior flagship store for most of the day.
This led to a somewhat bizarre open letter from Dior demanding the brand be “compensated” for the loss of revenue and disruption or it would pursue legal action. The demand was later withdrawn, with sources citing the “friendly relationship” between the two brands.
Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie exposés
While the controversial elements didn’t technically “happen” in 2022, the release of the documentaries “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” on Hulu in July and “White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch” on Netflix in March put their subjects in the spotlight. At the same time, it highlighted the many years in which both brands perpetuated harmful beauty standards, as well as the ties between Jeffrey Epstein and Les Wexner, founder of L Brands which was formerly the parent company of both brands.
Both brands tried to defuse the situation, issuing statements emphasizing their new commitment to diversity and distancing themselves from the mistakes of the past.
The end of Kanye West
The other big story of this year, also still ongoing, was Kanye West destroying his own legacy and career within a matter of months. What began with public clashes with his brand partners at Adidas and Gap led to the cancelation of both projects as his rhetoric grew more volatile. West declared he would be going solo, creating his own independent brand without the backing of a larger established fashion company.
But then came his anti-semitic comments, including stating full-blown admiration for Adolf Hitler and Nazis, shredding whatever legacy West had left in the eyes of both media and one-time fans. As of this writing, he is palling around with open neo-Nazis and has been abandoned and condemned by virtually the entire fashion world.
Banksy vs. Guess
In November, infamous (and anonymous) street artist Banksy posted to his nearly 12 million followers on Instagram that they should go to the Guess store on Regent Street in London and shoplift.
The reason is that the store was selling a collection made in collaboration with the the company Brandalized which specializes in selling street art that used imagery from Banksy’s art. While Guess took down its own Instagram post about the collection, it did not stop selling the products. Brandalized responded to the controversy by editing a famous Banksy quote about the ethics of stealing to critique the artist’s defensiveness.
The great Balenciaga blow-up
The last big controversy of the year was possibly the biggest: two disastrous ad campaigns released by Balenciaga around Thanksgiving. One posed child models with BDSM-inspired handbags and the other included a visible legal document related to child pornography. Together, they caused a massive uproar that led to multiple apologies from both the brand and creative director Demna, as well as the pulling of both campaigns, a lawsuit (which was later dropped) and the potential loss of Kim Kardashian as a powerful ally of the brand.
As of early December, anger was still ongoing, fueled by right-wing personalities like Tucker Carlson and Sebastian Gorka getting ahold of the story and drumming up more outrage from their supporters.