Oh Lovely, Donna Karan’s New Ads Treat Native People Like Props

Donna Karan spent some time in Haiti after the country’s devastating earthquake in 2010, so she was moved to base her latest advertising campaign there.  “Bringing awareness to Haiti has become a personal passion,” said Karan in a release. “For Spring, it was also my creative inspiration, bringing my two worlds together. This campaign, shot in Jacmel, infuses the vibrant spirit of Haiti into a sexy New York sophistication.” It’s too bad then, that the designer decided to employ the country and its citizens as merely representations of “otherness,” as evidenced by this shot featuring supermodel Adriana Lima (whom Karan says “shows the heart and soul of Haiti”).

In the shot, Lima looks straight on to the viewer, and is the subject of the photo, while two Haitians linger, looking off and to the side — reduced to objects in the background. The photo reeks of turning the people and setting of Haiti into merely “exotic” set pieces, like so many other fashion editorials where native peoples are used as colorful props (see also: Vogue’s use of the tired “Out of Africa” trope). Donna, we expected more from you.