The January 13th blog post entitled “Black fashion power” has drawn volleys of angry protest on both sides of the Atlantic, with the New York Daily News tabloid saying it managed to “insult black Americans as a whole”.
In the piece, which has since been removed from Elle’s website, journalist Nathalie Dolivo cited singers Erykah Badu or Rihanna and the actress Zoe Saldana, as black Americans who understood “the importance of style”.
“In an America governed for the first time by a black American president, chic has become a plausible option for a community up until then bound by its streetwear codes,” she wrote.
“In 2012, the ‘black-geoisie’ has integrated all the white codes … but with a twist, bourgeois with an ethnic reference that recalls their roots,” she argued.
The US website Huffington Post slammed the piece last week, saying a clumsy attempt to praise black style had “unravelled into a string of controversial, stereotypical and insulting statements.”
“So, being chic and sophisticated beyond jeans and a T-shirt has only been an option for black people since 2008 when Michelle Obama became First Lady?” it asked.
French star journalist Audrey Pulvar, one of the rare black faces in France’s media landscape, also called the article “racist and imbecilic”.
In a statement issued on Wednesday night, the body representing journalists at the style weekly defended their title.
“No ‘Elle’ is not racist,” the Société Des Journalistes said in a statement, insisting the magazine had “never stopped campaigning for the dignity of all women for more than 60 years.”
Elle editor Valerie Toranian also published an online apology, saying the weekly was “deeply sorry” to have caused offence, and has invited an anti-racism body to take part in a debate about the article.
In a new post on Elle’s site, Dolivo also apologises for the article, saying it was an attempt to take a “positive” look at US society and style.
“It was about putting the spotlight on these new figures who are unsettling and fascinating the worlds of fashion and entertainment,” she wrote.