Prada withdraws 'blackface' figurines after viral complaint

Designer label Prada has withdrawn a line of figurines that seemed to resemble the racist practice of blackface.

The decorative trinkets, from a collection called Pradamalia, take the form of black monkeys with huge red lips - imagery that some say is a derogatory portrayal of black people.

Blackface was a popular form of theatrical makeup in the 19th and 20th Century, in which white performers would darken their skin and overdraw their lips in a grotesque parody of African facial features.

It was often used in minstrel shows, which were popular in the US and would feature white actors portraying black people through racist stereotyping.

New York lawyer Chinyere Ezie says she walked past a Prada store in Soho and was shocked to see the figurines prominently displayed in the shop window.

"Right now I'm shaking with anger," she wrote in a now-viral Facebook post.

"I entered the store with a co-worker, only to be assaulted with more and more bewildering examples of their Sambo-like imagery."

'Sambo' is a term for people of African descent that is considered highly offensive.

Ms Ezie says she asked a Prada employee if they were aware of the racist tone of the figures, and was told a black employee had complained about Prada's use of blackface in the past, but the man no longer worked at the store.

"History cannot continue to repeat itself," she wrote. "Black America deserves better. And we demand better."

After Ms Ezie's post began to gain traction online, Prada released a statement via Twitter saying the company "abhors racist imagery".

"The Pradamalia are fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre. They are imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface.

"Prada Group never had the intention of offending anyone and we abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery. In this interest we will withdraw the characters in question from display and circulation."

The statement was widely mocked on Twitter.

"This is what happens when everyone in the boardroom is white," one user wrote.

"I know blackface when I see it and this is it," another said.

Closer to home, a stall at a Taranaki A&P show was slammed in November for selling golliwog dolls, which are inspired by blackface entertainers of the 19th century.