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Dolce & Gabbana Defend Their Controversial Earrings

The designers explain the historical and cultural context behind the earrings--but does it make them any less offensive?

There's no question that Dolce & Gabbana's Spring 2013 collection has caused quite a stir--and not in a good way.

Soon after images of the collection began circulating on the internet--particularly close-up ones of the earrings at left--several news sources criticized the designers for using imagery, which Refinery29 called, "cartoonish, debasing, subaltern [and] blatantly exploitative."

Now Dolce & Gabbana has finally responded to the criticism, in a somewhat roundabout way, by posting an article on their website, which explains the historical and cultural context of the figures, typically called "blackamoors." "The head is inspired by Moorish features," it reads. "Moorish is a term used to define many peoples throughout history...In Sicily’s case it defines the conquerors of Sicily [from 827 to 902 AD.]"

It goes on to explain that "these beautiful artifacts" are typically made out of a glazed ceramic, called Maiolica, which has deep historical meaning in Italy, and that they are in fact very common in homes, hotels, and restaurants in Sicily--a city that continues to inspire the designers.

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Somewhat bizarrely, the post also describes a legend that is associated with the popularity of the blackamoor design, which describes a young woman cutting off the head of her former Moor lover and using it as a vase.

There's no doubt that blackamoor imagery certainly has a unique and interesting cultural history--particularly in Sicily--but whether or not that context makes the designs any less offensive remains to be seen--a fact which Dolce & Gabbana probably could have been more sensitive to. However, it should be noted, the designers are not the only fashion VIPs to embrace blackamoor jewelry. In her 1983 autobiography, called D.V., Diana Vreeland wrote, "Blackamoors have been commemorated, in jewelry, in Russia, Venice, very eighteenth and nineteenth century...I’m told it’s not in good taste to wear blackamoors anymore, but I think I’ll revive them."

What's your take on the matter? Does the imagery celebrate Sicily's history--or is it just plain offensive?