Friday, 13 December 2013

chanel, dallas and cultural appropriation

The collection's most controversial piece

I have just watched Chanel's Paris-Dalas 2013/14 Metiers d'Art Show. Whilst I was planning to take the title of this post from the song '5-6-7-8' by Steps (fun fact: that was my favourite song for ages when I was 6) and sing the praises of the collection, the blatantly unforgiving racism of the collection cannot be overlooked. You can watch the full show here.

(all images from

Some Reasons Why Cultural Appropriation of Native Americans is bad:

1. The headdress is a sacred symbol of spirituality that is treasured by Native American tribes.
2. The 'trend' reinforces and encourages stereotypes. There are over 500 Native American tribes that all have different cultures and clothing.
3. Racism is still a reality in Native American's lives so 'dressing up' in what they wear is disrespectful of their past and present struggles.
4. The Native American identity has been reconstructed (often inaccurately) by brands just trying to make money.
5. It commodifies traditions.
6. Some outfits (such as the Victoria's Secret one) sexualise the culture. This is specifically important as Native American women are often rape victims of non Native American men. 

When I first read about how this Victoria's Secret look had been received as offensive to Native Americans, I must admit that I was shocked because I thought that fashion should be about exploring different cultures and traditions and reinventing them. However, since then I have learnt more about the issue this misguided view of mine has changed. Throughout history, Native Americans have been subjected to much hardship and persecution. How can we just forget about all that and blend items of clothing into our culture? Items that many do not understand the significance and importance of? 

Victoria's Secret apologised and removed the headdress from their collection after receiving justified criticism from Native American groups. Since then, cultural appropriation has been a particularly controversial issue, not just in catwalk fashion but in fancy dress and halloween costumes too. So, why, after all this do Chanel still find it acceptable to unapologetically place headdresses, feathers and Navajo prints in their collection in such a provocatively racially insensitive manner? Does Karl Lagerfeld seriously believe that Chanel is such a prestigious brand that it is above anything else?

Personally, I am outraged at the arrogance of it. I can only imagine that their must have been a bit of a tense atmosphere in the room barn when the looks came out. The idea of a fashion show in Dallas with the classic, filmic Cowboys & Indians costumes is wonderful in theory but unforgivably ignorant in practice. 

As much as I still believe that fashion should celebrate diversity and embrace other cultures in doing so, when a minority has specifically displayed their upset over the matter not just once but a great number of times, it is utterly unacceptable. The models are never even Native American. There are so, so many ways to have a fantastic collection of clothes that do not offend anyone so why do designers feel the need to keep revisiting such a sensitive topic? Surely it shows that they are simply selfish and profiteering brands?

Karl Lagerfeld even admitted that, "It's a reinvention of something I don't really know about, but that I like to play with." Can he not see how offensive that statement can be? None of the main fashion sites have criticised the show. Who dares to criticise Kaiser Karl, after all? 

Don't get me wrong, I love Chanel but this has stained the brand's image for me. The entire event was a miraculous occasion, as Lagerfeld ensures that every Chanel event is. The barn was gigantic and the decor very American. There was even a rodeo bull and the guests were perfect- Alexa Chung, Anna Wintour and Derek Blasberg were there. Vintage cars were on display and 900 guests took their seats to watch Lagerfeld's new short film before the show began. 

I just want to scream 'WHY WHY WHY???' It is pure ignorant arrogance to not realise the inherent racism in the collection. I guess that writing this here is is my way of screaming 'WHY WHY WHY???' I know that, as a cis white British girl, I can only ever sympathise but I can never emphasise but I believe that we should all use our voice- however small and seemingly insignificant it may seem- to defend what we believe to be right. I definitely think that it is our generation's job to take to the internet and make people wake up about issues like this. At the end of the day do you really want to buy into something that offends an entire culture at the same time as reinforcing the dumb, white teenage girl hipster stereotype? 

Fashion brands do not seem to understand all of this when it really isn't that complicated. We can only come to the harsh conclusion that they simply do. not. care.

Now to lighten the mood, this is still my favourite thing  that has ever happened in Dallas:


  1. Finally! I knew I wasn't the only person who saw the obvious cultural appropriation. The collection all together was quite hideous, with maybe 5 looks out of the 95 (?) that I liked. I definitely agree that we need more diversity in fashion, but to me that means more diverse models, designers, style icons, etc., not religious symbols turned into trendy hats. Personally, my dad grew up in the Native American church, even though he's Scottish, because his mother remarried a Native American, so I know all about the culture, clothes, etc., and my mother is Polish, so where I stand on the whole issue is kind of complicated. I mean, I wear a Hudson Bay coat which is based off the traditional blankets, but I understand the culture enough to respect that. I loved your post!

    1. I got about 3 minutes into watching the show on YouTube when I was like, 'wait, what?' I put all of the outfits I liked in this post (excluding the first one which is not only offensive but ugly.) I think that there was a good concept behind the collection but it came across as thoughtless and inconsiderate. Personally, I don't know much about Native American culture but I don't wear anything- as far as I am aware- that could be seen as objectifying Native Americans in any way. I researched a bit for this post though. Thank you for your insightful comment :) xoxo

  2. It really annoys me that some people think it's okay for big names to 'play with' cultural traditions and symbols with utter ignorance, because 'Well, it's Chanel, so I guess it's just fashion, right?'. The only difference between this and the VS fiasco is the lack of sexualisation, but there has been so much less coverage about the Chanel issue. It's really sad, because some elements of the show were fantastic. Being inspired by features like colour, emotion or artistic style from another culture can be wonderful, but this is just crass. Thanks for letting us all know about it - stuff like this needs more coverage.

    1. Yes. Chanel should definitely not be able to get away with this just because they are Chanel. Native Americans have made it clear that they don't want their culture to become just another title among lists of trends but this still happens :( xoxo

  3. Thank you for this insightful post! I'm still trying to understand cultural appropriation, what are the boundaries, what is acceptable and what is not. Your post illuminated me a tad more about the matter. :)

    1. I'm glad that you found this post helpful :) It is a tricky topic, I think. Hopefully more people will become educated about it in the future though xoxo


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