Uniqlo’s new spring collection features basic T-shirts and tank tops in bright jewel tones, Mister Rogers-esque cardigans, and … a military jacket and pants combo that kind of look like the uniform worn by Mao Zedong.
The jacket, which retails for $69.90, comes in khaki, navy, and black. It’s standard, as far as military-inspired coats go, except for one thing: When paired with matching trousers, it bears a striking resemblance to the Mao suit, a simple outfit popularized by the Chinese communist leader in the mid-20th century.
To some, the Mao suit is synonymous with China’s communist revolution, during which millions of people died of starvation or, in later years, persecution by the government. Historians estimate that several millions died of starvation during the Great Leap Forward, and an additional 1.5 million, many of whom were city dwellers and intellectuals, were killed during the country’s 10-year Cultural Revolution.
Uniqlo denied that the jacket was inspired by Mao’s famous outfit in a statement to the South China Morning Post. “Any resemblance that customers or people on the web have commented on is purely coincidental,” Aldo Liguori, Uniqlo’s director of global public relations, told the newspaper. “That was never in our minds when we designed the item.”
As Shainghaiist notes, the Mao suit has largely fallen out of favor in recent years, and is “really only worn by the diehards” — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un regularly wears the suits during public appearances, and Chinese President Xi Jinping has been known to wear Mao suits on formal occasions (though he’s also known for wearing windbreakers).
Uniqlo isn’t the only brand to recently stoke controversy, intentionally or not, with a new collection. Burberry was recently called out for its new hoodies that feature a rope, which some critics say looked a lot like a noose, around the neck. (The resemblance to a noose, Burberry CEO Marco Gobbetti said in a statement to CNN, was unintentional; the line had a “marine theme.”) Katy Perry pulled a pair of shoes from her new line after critics said they resembled blackface. Other brands, like Gucci and Prada, have also had blackface controversies lately.
As for Uniqlo, the company claims the outfit’s resemblance to a Mao suit is completely accidental, and it doesn’t appear that the items will be pulled anytime soon.