Zara, the Spanish fast-fashion brand, is facing backlash for its most recent campaign, released last week, with consumers drawing visual parallels between the ads and the ongoing crisis in Gaza. Here is what we know:
First, what was the Zara campaign scandal?
The photo shoot, released on December 7, featuring model Kristen McMenamy and photographed by Tim Walker, highlights a series of images in which McMenamy poses in front of a deconstructed workspace of sorts, filled with empty boxes and destroyed walls. Around her, there is dust, drywall, broken stones, rubble, and statues, some of which are missing limbs and others wrapped in white cloth. In one photo, McMenamy is holding a stiff mannequin wrapped in a white shroud. In some shots, other models around her are covered in dust.
People quickly drew parallels between the fashion ad and the images we’ve seen out of Gaza following the October 7 attacks by Hamas in southern Israel and Israel’s subsequent retaliation campaign throughout Gaza, in the past two months from local journalists like Motaz Azaiza and Wael Al-Dahdouh. One particular image of a mother hugging what looks to be her dead child, cloaked in a white cloth body bag, garnered international attention.
Online, social-media users are calling the campaign insensitive, with some even stating they believe it was intentional. “Even if it was a mistake — you’re not aware enough of current affairs to be working in marketing,” one user tweeted. Lubna Hamdan, a Dubai-based editor, tweeted: “Will Zara face any consequences of its disgusting campaign when it comes to its franchises in the Middle East? They make a lot of 💰 from us. And surely this is no coincidence.”
“I won’t ever buy anything from @ZARA ever again,” another person tweeted. “Our stance with not supporting these types of evil companies needs to be a permanent action. Not just temporary. This is the only way we can truly make a difference.”
Has Zara publicly addressed the ad controversy?
On Monday, people familiar with the matter told the Cut that the campaign was conceived in July, shot in September, and was allegedly not intentional. On Tuesday, the brand posted to a statement to their Instagram, saying the Zara Atelier campaign, titled “The Jacket,” “presents a series of images of unfinished sculptures in a sculptor’s studio… unfortunately, some customers felt offended by these images, which have now been removed, and saw in them something far from what was intended when they were created.” The post goes on to say “Zara regrets that misunderstanding and we reaffirm our deep respect towards everyone.”
Tim Walker, the photographer, has not yet spoken out either
Walker, the campaign’s photographer, has yet to make a public statement regarding this most recent controversy. Walker, who rose to prominence in the ’90s and has worked for Vogue and W Magazine, is known for his other-worldly style that verges on fantasy. “The photographer has always been obsessed with the idea of ruin,” fashion content creator ly.as0, said in a TikTok. He stated that while he thought the images were unsettling and the timing was bad, he believed the photos were not made in direct reference to Gaza. “The work in progress, the rubble, and the overall idea of destruction — that has been a part of his brand for decades,” Lyas said, but noted that “someone in his team should have thought of that before letting these be released.”
Another photographer, also named Tim Walker, has been receiving some ire via his Instagram account and made a statement emphasizing he is not the photographer involved in the shoot and directed people to the other Walker’s official Instagram. He wrote: “Please head to that account to make your voices heard regarding the ill-advised and insensitive Zara campaign which is understandably causing such controversy.”
This is not the first time Zara has stoked controversy in regard to Palestine
In 2021, Vanessa Perilman, a designer for Zara, reportedly harassed Palestinian model Qaher Harhash online after he voiced support for Gaza. In screenshots of Perilman’s messages, posted by Harhash, she wrote: “Maybe if your people were educated then they wouldn’t blow up the hospitals and schools that Israel helped to pay for in Gaza.”
“The people in my industry know the truth about Israel and Palestine and I will NEVER stop defending Israel and people like you come and go in the end,” Perilman continued. “Israelis don’t teach children to hate nor throw stones at soldiers as your people do.” After the messages went public, Perilman apologized to Harhash, writing to him to say, “I am so so sorry. I really hope you can forgive me.”
At the time, Inditex, Zara’s parent company, issued a statement condemning Perilman’s comments, but did not disclose whether disciplinary action had been taken. Despite calls for her dismissal from the public in 2021 and a renewed petition for her resignation, as of today, Perilman’s LinkedIn states that she’s allegedly still a senior design director at Inditex, where her responsibilities include serving as the head designer for the Zara women’s collection.