The N-Word Controversy That Rocked Paris Couture Week

When Russian designer Ulyana Sergeenko sent a message to fashionista Miroslava Duma containing the N-word, condemnation swiftly followed. Their apologies didn’t help.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

PARIS – It was a supremely raw moment during the usually demure Couture Week shows in Paris, when glittering dresses are presented in golden salons, and select audiences sip on champagne in venues like The Ritz on the Place Vendôme.

Japan sent its finest wedding dress designer to show off breath-taking kimonos, while exclusive ‘Maisons’ like the old-world French houses, Schiaparelli, Chanel and Dior showed off just what you can achieve when you set down your finest dressmakers to spend thousands of hours on one piece.

It was all going swimmingly, until a Russian fashionista and entrepreneur, Miroslava Duma, who founded the publication Buro 24/7, Instagrammed a photograph of a card she said she had received from the Russian designer, Ulyana Sergeenko, who shows on the official couture calendar here, containing the N word.

The note to Duma was addressed, ‘To my n****s in Paris.’

The phrase is a lyric from a song of the same name by Kanye West and Jay Z.

All hell broke loose when the photo was reposted on Instagram by a series of horrified bloggers, and then the scandal spread internationally.

Sergeenko and Duma stand accused of racism, and Duma of homophobia and transphobia after a video then re-emerged, thanks to blogger BryanBoy, from six years ago, showing Duma making transphobic comments.

Both Duma and Sergeenko have since issued apologies. Reps for Sergeenko and Kanye West that The Daily Beast reached out to did not respond for comment.

“I’m personally shocked. In this day or age, it’s lethal for any non-dark-skinned person to use the 'N' word in any way whatsoever,” said Mia Frye, the Paris-based American dancer, hip hop artist, choreographer, model and actress. “Banalizing this word which is connected and referenced to a very deep, ugly and humiliating (slavery era) time for the black community is devastating.

"When black Hip hop artists or people use the N...word, it’s (used) as a provocation towards society. What it says is, Yo! Your racist word you use to define me doesn’t shame us."

Couture Week reporters in Paris discussed the ‘N’ word remaining the most controversial in the English language, while, off-the-record only, industry figures responded to interview requests with comments like, “what is this bullshit from these bullshit women?” to “it’s fucking unreal.”

Top editors contacted for interviews said they were bound with standard gagging orders from their publications. Even freelance reporters, vocal in person, claimed they could not or did not have time to talk.

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There were few exceptions.

“I find it unfortunate that influencers feel that they are allowed to use racial slurs, considering that they are looked up to by so many,” said the Paris-based blogger and bag designer Kasia Dietz. “They are offending rather than connecting to their audience. Shouldn't they be setting an example instead of using crass slang to make a statement?”

Most wanted to talk off the record.

Added one American journalist who did not wish to be named: “While ready to wear is increasingly diverse, this just reminds me of how monotone couture remains.”

Others were more vocal on social media.

Fashion blogger Bryanboy who reposted Duma’s post early on, said on Twitter: “Racism and bigotry is never cool. 😢 I guess I’m too weird…”

He was talking about a video from six years ago where Duma makes transphobic remarks.

Model Naomi Campbell also spoke out, reposting the Duma post with the comment, “Seriously?! This better not be real!”

Marc Goehring, a stylist and fashion editor, posted a photograph on Instagram of him wearing a T-shirt with an image of Duma saying, “Hi my name is Miroslava Duma. I am a racist. I am a homophobe. I am a transphobe.”

Teen Vogue's Amira Rasool wrote that the Duma and Sergeenko had added insult to injury through their apologies.

Duma posted on Instagram: “I sincerely apologize for my regrettable Instagram story that went out. The phrase referenced is from a Kanye West and Jay Z song by the same title. The word is utterly offensive, and I regret promoting it and am very sorry. I deeply respect people of all backgrounds and detest racism of discrimination of any kind. My organizations and I are committed to our core values of inclusion and diversity.”

Buro 24/7 also issued a statement saying that, “racism and bigotry have no place in our editorial guidelines and policies.”

Sergeenko said, as part of a longer post on Instagram: “Kanye West is one of my favorite musicians and NP is one of my most favorite songs. And yes, [Duma and I] call each other the N word sometimes when we want to believe that we are just as cool as these guys who sing it.”

The post has since been deleted.