Vogue Brazil style director Donata Meirelles has stepped down from her position after controversial photos from her birthday party surfaced that appear to depict themes of slavery.
Earlier this month, Meirelles celebrated her 50th birthday with dinner in Salvador de Bahia. One of the attendees, Brazilian journalist Fabio Bernardo, shared an image of the event on his Instagram page. The image, which has since been deleted, showed black women wearing traditional garb and standing next to a white throne where people sat and posed for pictures.
Former Vogue U.S. employee Shelby Ivey Christie was one of several people who said the imagery appears to evoke a “Brazilian slave and master theme.”
Alongside now-deleted images from the party she found on Instagram, Christie wrote: “Mucamas (house slaves), who were very clearly darker complexioned, were posed as props alongside guests.”
In images from Meirelles’ party, you can see black women wearing white dresses and white head wraps, which Christie said is “not coincidental.”
The day after the party, Meirelles addressed the controversial images on Instagram, saying the chair was an artifact from the Afro-Brazilian religious tradition of Candomblé. She claimed that the clothes worn by the black women were traditional Bahian party attire.
“Even so, if I caused any different impressions, I am sorry,” she wrote in her post, which has since been deleted.
Earlier this week, Vogue Brazil’s Instagram account weighed in on the discussion.
“Vogue Brasil deeply regrets what happened and hopes that the debate generated will serve as a learning experience,” the post says.
Meirelles reshared the image from Vogue Brazil on her account and added in a note that “at age 50, the hour is action. I’ve heard a lot, I need to hear more.”
“I want to act together with the women who can teach me and with whomever else is willing to be a link in a transformation that is necessary,” she wrote, according to a translation on the style site Snobette. “My commitment is to put me in (re)construction!”
On Wednesday, Meirelles announced her resignation from her role at Vogue Brazil. A spokesperson for Conde Nast International told HuffPost that they’re “aware of the hurt and dismay caused by images of the private birthday party of Donata Meirelles, Style Director of Vogue Brazil.”
“Vogue Brazil has set up a working group of scholars and activists that will help the team to more deeply understand the history of slavery and the lasting pain it has left behind,” CNI said in an emailed statement. “As a company, we have zero tolerance for racism and images evoking racism. Condé Nast International is a force for positive societal change and stands for diversity and inclusiveness.”
In an emailed statement on Friday, Vogue Brazil accounts executive Marilia Idesti told HuffPost that Meirelles was “extremely important to shape the spirit of the magazine and consolidate Vogue Brasil as a major global force” during her seven years as style director there.
“With her unique sense of style, which captures the dynamism and joie de vivre of the Brazilian woman as nobody else does, Donata gave new energy to the magazine,” Idesti’s statement read. “We understand and respect her resignation and will be eternally grateful for all the passion and talent she has dedicated to every page she has edited.”
Idesti added that Meireilles’ position will be “extinguished” with her departure since it was designed specifically for her.
From a U.S. perspective, the party thrown by Meirelles might seem particularly notable as it occurred during a Black History Month already rife with racism. (February is Black History Month in the U.S.; the Brazilian equivalent is observed in November.) Earlier this month, the Italian luxury brand Gucci was lambasted on social media over images of a balaclava knit top that looked like blackface caricatures. The brand apologized, saying on Twitter it would be removing the garment from online and physical stores.
This week, pop star Katy Perry was criticized for a specific shoe in her line, Katy Perry Collections, because it too resembled blackface caricatures. Perry announced she’d be removing the shoes from Dillard’s and other retailers.
This story was updated with a statement from Conde Nast International.