As is the case with all too many fashion brands, the models featured in Perry Ellis's ad campaigns are overwhelmingly white. According to a lawsuit filed against the company Wednesday, that's no accident.
The complaint was filed in New York by Joseph Cook, a 49-year-old gay (this is noted in the case) senior executive who has served as head of sales at Perry Ellis's Original Penguin brand since September 2012. He alleges that Oscar Feldenkreis, the son of Perry Ellis International founder George Feldenkreis and the company's soon-to-be CEO, demanded that Cook and his team ensure that there were "no blacks in my ads" or "anyone who looked too gay." According to the suit, the company even had a number system that ranked body color. Separately, Feldenkreis also allegedly told Cook that he could avoid jury duty by "telling them you hate niggers and fags."
The complaint also claims that Feldenkreis's discriminatory behavior is supported by "dominant family control at both the management and board levels" that makes it difficult for employees to file complaints. Oscar Feldenkreis's sister heads up administration at the company, and his daughter is the brand director of Original Penguin.
If these allegations are true, it's disheartening to hear that someone with so much power at an international fashion apparel company possesses such beliefs, especially when there's such a problematic diversity problem in the industry, and when so many important figures in the industry (including Ellis, who passed away in 1986) are gay.
A rep for Perry Ellis declined to comment, but a lawyer representing the company provided the following statement:
Perry Ellis is a company that promotes equal opportunity and a positive working environment. The company is proud of the fact that it is probably one of the most diverse companies in the apparel business following its multicultural roots, stemming from Puerto Rico and Cuba. Perry Ellis categorically denies any allegations to the contrary. The claims that have been asserted will be vigorously defended against.
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