Versace under Fire for Ad Campaign Photographed in Chicago

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Luxury fashion brand Versace is under fire for ads featuring models Karlie Kloss and Gigi Hadid in Chicago that some say promote teenage motherhood and slavery symbolism.

Versace posted a short video called "Chicago is my Beat" online this week as part of its fall/winter 2016 campaign that intermixes shots of posing models with performances by African-American dancers. Photographer Bruce Weber told The New York Times he "wanted these pictures to mean something to the city," but some of the images have been blasted on social media.

"When slavery wasn't enough so you put a chain on the African baby," read one meme posted on Instagram with a Versace shot of an African-American girl in a stroller with a chain across her lap. Some critics also said the images of Kloss and Hadid, who are both in their early 20s, toting young children around the city suggest the models gave birth as teenagers.

A Versace spokeswoman did not comment to the Tribune about the controversy but said the campaign was the fashion brand's first in Chicago. Weber told the Times he was inspired by a February story in The New Yorker about the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church on the South Side.

"I had read a story in The New Yorker about a pastor called Father Mike, who is pretty controversial, and it caught my imagination. I went to hear him speak before we started shooting, and he was talking about politics and the need to restore old neighborhoods, and it made me think I wanted these pictures to mean something to the city," Weber told the Times. A Weber representative did not return a Tribune request for comment.

Pfleger told the Tribune that Weber attended a church service in the spring and plans to return next month to explore the church's efforts to quell violence. Pfleger said Wednesday morning he had not seen the Versace campaign and added with a chuckle, "Versace has not called me to do anything."

A Versace representative says its campaign features Joffrey Ballet dancer Fabrice Calmels and performers from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Chicago Multicultural Dance Center and The Future Kingz.

Weber told the Times he met a group of hip-hop dancers on the street with their manager and asked them if they wanted to be part of the campaign. At the end of the shoot, company executive Donatella Versace gave them suits and shoes, Weber said.

"The clothes weren't the payment, they were a present. We paid them, too. For the next men's show we are going to bring a lot of them to Milan," Versace told the Times. "They were important because they speak a different language from me — literally, but also generationally, and fashion needs that. Otherwise we will all be left behind, I think."

Frennie Deloria, manager of The Future Kingz, said Weber spotted her troupe while they practiced for a show outside the Aragon Ballroom. She said the crew was ecstatic to work on the campaign. Deloria said her dancers approached Versace after the shoot for a picture and she gave them Versace shoes, but no suits.

Deloria said her group, which is based in the Northwest suburbs, was paid for its time but there are no set plans for future Versace work. Deloria and reps for Hubbard Street and the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center declined to comment on the campaign controversy.

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KY5_1466757796_1.jpg Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
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