Monday Mix: MAC/Rodarte Controversy — UPDATED

By Voxy  

I would be remiss in fulfilling part of the mission of the site if I didn’t mention the controversy over this September’s upcoming MAC/Rodarte collaboration (promo photo at left). I will put sales announcements in a separate post since it seems inappropriate to attach them to the end of this one.

Simply put, the situation is this: Rodarte (a fashion line run by two sisters, who are, if it matters, of Hispanic descent) is coming out with a Fall 2010 collection inspired by a trip they took through Texas last year, from El Paso to Marfa. They have said that the inspiration from the line and the palette of colors chosen came from the “ethereal” landscape of the area. Just over the US/Mexico border, within spitting distance of El Paso, is the city of Juarez, infamous for several related reasons. In the last two decades, Juarez has seen major growth as an industrial center, due largely to the 300+ factories (maquiladoras) that are located in and around the city. Mexican workers, many of them women, flocked to Juarez in hopes of getting jobs at these factories, where they work for long hours in poor conditions for little pay. With a population of 1.3 million, Juarez is also a major piece of contested turf in the Mexican drug war, and as such it is a city rife with violence: according to USA Today, 2,600 homicides occured there in 2009. (In comparison, New York City, with a population of over 8 million, saw only 461 homicides in 2009). Norte, the Juarez newspaper, has dubbed the city “the most violent zone in the world outside of declared war zones.” University of Texas El Paso professor Tony Payan was quoted in the Houston Chronicle as saying, “Having hitched itself successfully to American patterns of consumption, including drug consumption, [Juarez] has also become the one city where the crunch of the war on drugs and the worldwide financial crisis have had a very heavy impact… Tens of thousands of young men roam the streets with little or no hope of obtaining a job, of receiving drug treatment, of escaping the cycle of violence.”

While the vast majority of homicide victims in Juarez are men, there is also a noted pattern of female murder victims, many of whom are maquiladora workers on their way to or from the factories. The murders are usually preceded by rape or other violence, and have become known as an example of femicide. According to the National Organization for Women and Amnesty International, approximately 400 women are suspected to have become victims of femicide in Juarez since 1993. However, Amnesty International is elsewhere quoted as placing the number of recovered bodies at 800, which is indicative of the difficulty in pinning down down an exact number of deaths; many cases are not investigated and others are suspected of being covered up by police. There are also women who have gone missing and never been found (and who may number in the thousands).

MAC is putting out a cosmetics collection in conjunction with the Rodarte fall line, and the issue is that they have chosen some shade names that many people view as insensitive or offensive given the circumstances. The products spawning the greatest controversy seem to be the two nail lacquers in the collection, which are named “Juarez” and “Factory.”

In response to the controversy, which has been playing out in the usual internet carnage form on various and sundry websites and blogs, Rodarte made the following statement: “Our makeup collaboration with M·A·C developed from inspirations on a road trip that we took in Texas last year, from El Paso to Marfa.  The ethereal nature of this landscape influenced the creative development and desert palette of the collection. We are truly saddened about injustice in Juarez and it is a very important issue to us. The M·A·C collaboration was intended as a celebration of the beauty of the landscape and people in the areas that we traveled.”

MAC also made a statement, as follows: “We understand that product names in the M·A·C Rodarte collection have offended some of our consumers and fans.  This was never our intent and we are very sorry.  We are listening carefully to the comments posted and are grateful to those of you who have brought your concerns to the forefront of our attention.  M·A·C will give a portion of the proceeds from the M·A·C Rodarte collection to help those in need in Juarez. We are diligently investigating the best way to do this.  Please be assured that we will keep you posted on the details regarding our efforts.”

The majority of internet discussion of the subject on beauty blogs has been of the usual trainwreckery that you might expect. If you think we can do better, I welcome your thoughts.

UPDATE: Late on Monday MAC released the following statement (italics mine):

“We understand that product names in the M·A·C Rodarte collection have offended our consumers and fans. This was never our intent and we are very sorry. We continue to listen carefully to the comments we have received and have the following plans to address concerns:

  • We are committed to donating $100,000 to a non-profit organization that has a proven, successful track-record helping women in need and that can directly improve the lives of women in Juarez in a meaningful way.
  • We are changing the product names in the M·A·C Rodarte collection.

As we have done in the past, please be assured that we will communicate details regarding our progress in this matter.”

Rodarte released a statement as well:

“We recognize that the violence against women taking place in Juarez needs to be met with proactive action. We never intended to make light of this serious issue and we are truly sorry.

Helping to improve the conditions for women in Juarez is a priority for us and we are thankful for all the comments calling attention to the urgency of addressing this situation.”

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10 Comments

  1. avatar marigolds
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink | Reply

    PS, lots of the MAC-boycotters at Model Mayhem think it is all a pre-planned publicity stunt to generate internet talk: http://www.modelmayhem.com/po.php?thread_id=612058

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    • avatar Voxy
      Posted July 20, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I heard that too. If that’s the case (and I doubt it), it’s one of the stupidest publicity stunts ever.

      (That’s why I doubt it. MAC is many things, but it ain’t dumb.)

      (Correction: MAC isn’t dumb in that way. They are dumb in other ways sometimes, but I think it’s by-accident dumb, not on-purpose dumb.)

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  2. avatar marigolds
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Voxy, you said it far better than me (this is what I meant when i said it was dumb; the name is not a good selling point for the product. I guess they were trying to be edgy, like Urban Decay names, but completely missed the mark.) And I agree with both you and Chaos that this scrambling-after-the-fact to politicize it and spin it with donations is both distasteful and pathetic. If they’d intended it from the beginning to be a political statement, they should have marketed it completely differently. If they just fucked up (which I think is the case) then the backpedaling just makes them look more like jerks. (Although I can’t imagine what response they could have given that would have been more acceptable, frankly; ignoring it or dismissing it would have been far worse.)

    Agreed that some names are touchstones for violence and horror and can’t be disarticulated from their histories; I personally don’t think of Juarez as one of those (yet) (or at least I didn’t until I read more about it via this controversy) but you’re right that Tianenmen Red would be unacceptable.

    It is complicated. Frankly, I’m disappointed in the Rodarte girls (especially since they did that whole Jenny Craig promotion, or whatever it was; they were gorgeous as they were!) more than in MAC. I can see MAC being totally out of touch with current politics, but if the Mulleavys actually went through Texas and Juarez, I’d think they’d have had a better sense of the nuances surrounding the name.

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  3. avatar Francie
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Voxy, as usual, has made an excellent point. Is social or political commentary really the best marketing strategy for cosmetics? I can’t believe the naming was naive or unintentional, and I find the results awkward, even disturbing. And who exactly is the target audience for the “Death-Warmed-Over Look” in the promo photo? Fans of Edvard Munch? The make-up is consciously ghoulish. Even dress evokes death with its shroud-like ruching.

    After seeing the models in that post about the Berlin fashion show, I’m thinking I need to go hide under the bed with the others! I want youth and beauty in my make-up and fashion ads! Do I really need to be reminded that I’m on a downward slope? I can just look in the mirror for that.

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  4. avatar marigolds
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’m probably going to get slammed for this, but I don’t actually think it’s insensitive. Just to mention the name of the city is insensitive? It’s not like they called it “Juarez serial killer red” or “Illegal factory worker blue.” I think it’s kind of *dumb*, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it’s insensitive, precisely. Juarez-the-city is, presumably, not reducible to this (completely horrific and [as is typical of violence against women of color] under-attended to and under-reported) series of murders.

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    • avatar Voxy
      Posted July 19, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Permalink | Reply

      “Juarez-the-city is, presumably, not reducible to this (completely horrific and [as is typical of violence against women of color] under-attended to and under-reported) series of murders.”

      I think that for me this is the key. But I don’t know enough about Juarez to be able to say. Compare it to, say, Rio de Janeiro, which many people flock to as a tourism/vacation spot yet which also has enormous amounts of horrible, violent, drug/gang-related crime in the favelas. (Not to mention the associated crushing poverty.) But you can name a nail polish color “Rio” and not have people’s default reaction be “how dare you create a cosmetic product celebrating poverty and drug violence”? (2008 homicides for Rio are cited by the NYT as 4,631, by the way. OTOH, it does have 7 million people, so the per capita rate is lower.) So there is definitely a difference of perception.

      Some places in the world have had their identities completely subsumed by horrible things that have happened there. Darfur, for example. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, certain places in Germany and Austria. Would one name a nail polish “Tiananmen Square Red”? I don’t know. I doubt it. There’s something macabre about it. For commercial purposes, I think it’s wrong. (On the other hand, I could envision a very provocative art piece that would be, say, a collection of red nail polishes named after different sites. That would make an interesting and powerful statement. But to *sell* a Tiananmen Square Red nail polish would be, to me, distasteful.)

      Regardless of whether or not Juarez’s identity is or is not subsumed by the violence against women there, I definitely think that the PR people at Rodarte and MAC should have thought twice (or more) before doing this, because you can’t sell a product with a potentially controversial name and trust that the masses are going to engage in informed, nuanced discussion of it. They just should have made another choice. Or, if they decided this was the hill they wanted to die on and it was really important for them to have made a political statement, they should have approached it in an entirely different way. Someone needed to have said to them, “These are the people you’re selling this product to, and here’s how those people are going to think about and react to your product name. If you want to sell nail polish and not cause a stir, you should make a different choice. If you want to make a political statement, then you better start donating profits and come up with a different marketing plan.” Names mean nothing, unless they mean *something,* in which case they do matter. In other words, I don’t care if the shade of my red lipstick is “Ruby” or “Rose Red” or “0371,” but if it’s called “Donner Dinner Party” I’d balk.

      In any event, I think it is a more complex issue than the majority of conversations on the internet would suggest.

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  5. avatar chaosbydesign
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Ok. The first point I have could be wrong, because I am not at all familiar with the geography of this area at all, but the Rodarte sisters state that they were traveling through Texas — Texas is not Mexico, right? So without beginning to consider the ridiculous choice of product name in terms of the history behind it, if the line is inspired by a trip through Texas, why name the products after an area in Mexico in the first place? And, since when has the word ‘factory’ been associated with ‘ethereal landscapes’?!

    That aside, the product names are insensitive. *If* they had been named in this way to promote awareness of the troubles in that area and raise money in support of the people in the area, then *maybe* (and this is a very, very small ‘maybe’) it could be considered to be acceptable. Maybe. But, to use a most probably bad analogy to make my point, if a line was being sold in support of cancer awareness and profits going toward that cause, no company is going to name their products “Metastasis” or “Adriamycin” or “Grade 4 Glioblastoma”, because it is offensive and insensitive. This is offensive and insensitive.

    It is even more disturbing that MAC have not only overlooked the issue surrounding the product names (how the Hell did nobody stop this in the early stages?) but they also appear to have neglected to consider the issues until provoked by public response. The donation of a portion of profits to Juarez looks to me to have been an afterthought in response to the criticism as opposed to something they had planned to do all along. This shows that MAC/Rodarte in no way considered the history of the place from which they have taken product names during the development of the line, which, if you are going to launch a controversially named product loaded with reference to current issues, really is inexcusable.

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    • avatar Voxy
      Posted July 19, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Juarez is literally just across the river from El Paso, and the two of them together form a kind of united metropolitan area. So yes, technically one is in Mexico and the other in the US, but it’s all in the same area.

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  6. avatar a biologist
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink | Reply

    WWJS?

    What would Jenna say? I hope she will weigh in on this issue.

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    • avatar Voxy
      Posted July 19, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Given that she works for Sephora and they don’t carry MAC products, I doubt there will be any comment. (*I* would certainly stay away from it if I were in her shoes.)

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