México acusa a Carolina Herrera de apropiación cultural por su colección
June 14, 2019 12:47 PM   Subscribe

 
Right on! Thanks, primalux. Appropriation is a complex and touchy subject and it's absolutely awesome to hear from people directly affected by it.
posted by kalessin at 12:55 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Public Service Announcement, there is a really big history of threads on cultural appropriation going badly on Metafilter; go ahead and read thru the tag on Mefi and Metatalk if you want. If your comment is that there's no such thing, or it doesn't matter, or don't get so upset, or everyone appropriates all the time, or something else kneejerkily skeptical, be warned this is not the place.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:58 PM on June 14 [59 favorites]


Someone I know used to work for Ralph Lauren corporate and said there were a couple people there whose job was to travel the world and look for “inspiration” material from local markets and artisans. I doubt those artisans ever got paid for more than the items themselves. Diet Prada (an Instagram account that has been starting great discussions about cultural appropriation in fashion) pointed out that in 2011, Hermès officially partnered with local artisans in Mexico City on a scarf project—working together and showing respect is very much possible.

While fashion has long been playing with cultural ideas about different nations and ethnic groups (like YSL’s famous Ballet Russe collection), there seems to be a difference between playing with cultural imagination and actually using specific patterns, designs, and fabrics.
posted by sallybrown at 1:12 PM on June 14 [28 favorites]


The NYT article raises a very good point that could be carried farther - that the fashion industry* is always "paying homage" to remote places and marginalized people, that this virtually constitutes fashion. I'd say that there's no fashion-industry-under-capitalism without appropriation (even if specific designers or specific fashions are not individually appropriative).

Like, a lot of the charge that the fashion industry uses to sell stuff is specifically "rich people re-imagining this poor-person thing as wittily and unimaginably luxurious" or "this foreign thing has a sexual frisson because of its connection to colonialism", etc. If there is no low, there can be no high, so to speak - the transgressive/shocking/exotic notion of bringing in fashions from non-rich-white-people-land is what makes those fashions desirable.

It's like the difference between "a small geometric print in shades of blue" and "an 'Aztec' print in shades of blue".....you might wear the former because you like it or because it flatters you, but when you wear the latter you're always wearing not just the color and pattern but some cultural notions about 'tribal' people and 'foreign' places. What makes it fashionable is specifically its foreignness, not just its color and pattern.

And then there's always the notions of "resort", "cruise" and luxury travel that haunt fashion. There can be no "resort" or "cruise" unless there are poor but beautiful post-colonial places to travel to, poor but beautiful foreign people to exploit, etc. No one is making luxury versions of what people wore to vacation in the popular seaside resorts of Yugoslavia in 1975, after all.

You can definitely think of fashions and styles that don't depend on appropriation, or at least don't depend on it any more than "we live in the world and our eyes rest on images and we hear words". But the money of the industry depends on appropriation.

*Which is not the same as "there is a fashion for something among my peers" or "dressing in clothes you like rather than a burlap sack from the People's Burlap Sack Dispensary"
posted by Frowner at 1:24 PM on June 14 [27 favorites]


There can be no "resort" or "cruise" unless there are poor but beautiful post-colonial places to travel to, poor but beautiful foreign people to exploit, etc.

IDK, St Tropez? Monte Carlo? Biarritz?
posted by airmail at 2:22 PM on June 14 [11 favorites]


[This thread is specifically about the fashion issue rather than Mexican politics generally; if you want to discuss the overall political situation, it would be better to have a new thread.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:34 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


'always "paying homage" to remote places and marginalized people, that this virtually constitutes fashion. I'd say that there's no fashion-industry-under-capitalism without appropriation'

but as sallybrown pointed out above, one way to still reference 'remote' places (um, remote to who?) and specific cultures is to discover designers and artists from and in those places and to support their work. Give them shows. Write about them in Vogue, or whatever. Partner with them responsibly and together you can upscale the designs to sell at scale in big stores. (Assuming that's what the artists/designers want to do).

It's not like the only options are to either have only non-Indigenous designs in fashion or to appropriate other cultures. That mindset completely erases the possibility of world-renowned Indigenous Mexican designers.

Not to mention I'm sure that traditional designs and motifs would be far more interestingly re-imagined and interpreted by people who grew up with them and have the deep cultural background to bring out relevant associations in their designs than by someone who saw them once when they were on holiday.
posted by lollusc at 4:19 PM on June 14 [19 favorites]


An interesting legal take
posted by bitdamaged at 4:37 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


An interesting legal take

It is an interesting take, with some precedent in other goods. Much as Europe protects use of terms like Champagne and Camembert on behalf of France, Mexico reserves the use of tequila to describe a class of mezcal, from one type of agave from specific regions of the country. As is done for food and drink, fashion as a specific cultural product from this and other parts of the world could be placed under a similar and broader set of legal protections, even if imitation and appropriation in the fashion industry are rife.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:12 PM on June 14 [7 favorites]


I'm reminded of this story, though trying to find that one again made me realize how often this is happening now, and that people are being called out for it.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:24 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


It's not like the only options are to either have only non-Indigenous designs in fashion or to appropriate other cultures. That mindset completely erases the possibility of world-renowned Indigenous Mexican designers.

Honestly, I tend to think that there is no utopian capitalist fashion industry. That's not the same as saying "there are no trends or clothes or styles that can be produced in a way that is equitable", but when you look at the history of the fashion industry itself, the fashion industry as it actually exists under capitalism, it's not something where you can just swap in, eg, an Indigenous design collective for Chanel. This isn't about talent or designs; it's about the ways that exoticism and transgression, not to mention theft of wages and ideas, drive the fashion industry. Fashion that was produced equitably by an Indigenous design collective and sold around the world would require a total transformation of the fashion industry into something utterly different.

When you say "um, remote to whom", I feel like I didn't get my point across very well - it's the idea of remoteness, the idea of the "exotic" that lends the fashions their allure. It doesn't matter whether "remote" is Tibet to a wealthy mainland Chinese person or Patagonia to a wealthy white American or the Scottish highlands to an English person in, like, 1875.

Even take something like an "authentic" Aran sweater - the whole fashion thing of Aran sweaters basically depends on an impoverished hinterland, both because of the mythology around Aran sweaters and because cottage production of Aran sweaters isn't actually super lucrative even though the sweaters themselves are very expensive (which is why there are only a few small producers active). What makes an Aran sweater a Fashion Thing while the equally nice sweater knit by your aunt is not a Fashion Thing? The poverty, remoteness and hinterland that give rise to the myth of "heritage".

Again, this isn't about talent or beautiful design, or some kind of "well if we can't appropriate we might as well go home" narrative, or some question about whether an Indigenous designer can create clothes that are as beautiful and groundbreaking as Balenciaga or someone. It's about the way that the fashion system itself, as it creates, markets and sells huge quantities of merchandise, is built on a set of ideas about the foreign, the remote, the exotic and the exploitable, and these ideas aren't just grafted onto the top of the fashion system but constitute it.

It's a system that depends on racial and financial hierarchy, I guess is what I'm trying to say.
posted by Frowner at 5:33 PM on June 14 [25 favorites]


This interesting lecture by Adrienne Keene on cultural appropriation, esp. regarding indigenous fashion, was linked in TFA's comments section.

Definitely worth watching. She's an academic at Brown and more focused on the US than Mexico in this lecture, but it's overall a primer on appropriation, and I don't think what she's saying is US-specific, although it might be specific to areas that had settler colonialism, like the Americas. She talks about the type of appropriation that Caroline Herrera (among many others) is doing within the context of colonialism.

To paraphrase (as best I can -- please feel free to correct), colonialism involves the colonizer extracting resources from the colonized, and in the case of cultural appropriation, it's cultural resources that are being extracted. But it's still resource extraction -- exploitative and destructive -- similar to other sorts of colonialist resource extraction. And like all exploitation, it's a zero sum interaction, in that the colonized are harmed by having their resources stolen and the colonized benefit by getting the enjoyment/use of those stolen resources.
posted by rue72 at 6:05 PM on June 14 [7 favorites]


Those with an interest in the legal and policy aspects of this might enjoy reading the WIPO report The Protection of Traditional Cultural Expressions: Updated Draft Gap Analysis. Separately, this whitepaper looks at the policy conversation around protecting traditional cultural expression (TCE) in the specific context of fashion.

As this thread is already discussing cultural appropriation beyond the specific Mexican context, it seems appropriate to note that African nations, particularly the eight contracting states of the Swakopmund Protocol, have been leading the way in developing legal tools for protecting TCE and traditional knowledge (TK). AFAIK the Swakopmund Protocol is the most thorough effort at developing practical answers to various questions that naturally arise when attempting to integrate TCE/TK protections into existing IP systems. Here is a knowledgeable blog post about the Zambian implementing legislation in particular.

I can't find any indication that Mexico has adopted TCE protections that would cover the designs at issue here, but perhaps this controversy will catalyze some movement in that direction.
posted by shenderson at 8:06 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


I tend to be generally skeptical of cultural appropriation arguments, and this one in particular. The reason being that it reads to me a bit like a populist politician move to play to Mexican nationalism. The examples are pretty far from actual Mexican indigenous clothing, or goods. But they do look inspired by traditional Mexican textiles. Whether that causes harm or results in some kind of infringement of something that needs protection I think is highly debatable.

It's not that it harm or theft would be impossible. I almost posted this story a few months back that describes a more clear example of what appears to be fashion industry shenanigans. Here, harm and theft are much easier to pinpoint. But that's because it doesn't involve a traditional aesthetic developed by non specific individuals in a particular group. It also involves potential loss of commercial activity of the creator. I'm curious what Frausto's end game is here. Some kind of compensation? Seems dubious to me that it would make any significant impact. Simply halting the production? Even more dubious that such a result would be beneficial to anyone. Other than a politician's scorecard.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:39 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


But that's because it doesn't involve a traditional aesthetic developed by non specific individuals in a particular group.

There's a big problem if people decide that this is what distinguishes harm or theft from something more "harmless". Here are some, but I'm sure not all, of the reasons:

- the white western model of cultural artefact creation tends to be individualistic and about 'ownership' in a way that means the original creator of something is more likely to be recorded and remembered. Many other models are not like that. So requiring that an individual creator be identifiable privileges and protects white western culture.

- documentation of the cultural lineage of creations might be oral rather than written, and white western companies have a history of saying that oral records don't count.

- many Indigenous communities do have certain cultural creations that can be linked to individuals and members of those communities are highly aware of who the creators are. Other people across the world might not be. It is then all too easy for a white western company to say that individuals associated with the creation of something they appropriate "can't be identified" when what they actually mean is they won't show up in a Google search, and that none of their white western friends and business associates know who they are.

Like I said, those are only some of many reasons why this is a problematic line of argument. It's also not an innovative argument. I'm sure looking at previous threads on cultural appropriation here will show up many instances of others saying similar things, and many good arguments against it.
posted by lollusc at 9:02 PM on June 14 [25 favorites]


Interested in showing the communities Wes Gordon appropriated from, I did a bit of googling and found some Wikipedia pages:

- The serape in general is described in this article, and the section on Saltillo's economy describes it as one of its most famous exports.
- The page on Tenango Embroidery indicates its "commercialized version of traditional Otomi embroidery."
- A picture of one sort of traje de tehuana can be found on the Textiles of Oaxaca article.

Mr. Gordon hasn't replicated the specific cut of indigenous clothing, but the embroidery or weaving pattern definitely appear to be copied. It's not super difficult to see that. The reporting in El País indicates that Frausto wants to bring attention to the debate about indigenous rights. The same article quotes Senator Susana Harp of Oaxaca asking that the communities ask for respect and permission -- not necessarily money -- as she explains some legislation seeking to prevent such appropriation. So it seems that the Mexican government, at least, is just asking for respect for its indigenous communities on the world stage.
posted by Mister Cheese at 9:30 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


I'm curious what Frausto's end game is here. Some kind of compensation? Seems dubious to me that it would make any significant impact. Simply halting the production? Even more dubious that such a result would be beneficial to anyone. Other than a politician's scorecard.

Maybe it's naive of me, but I think there's some value in at least pointing out that it's absurd that major fashion houses (who use so much of their financial and political weight to fight against copycat designs) are taking exact patterns from other people and profiting off them. I'm not even talking about the emotional/historical aspect of cultural appropriation. I'm talking basic fairness here. Target recently settled a case after Burberry sued them for selling items with something extremely similar to Burberry signature plaid...and if you keep an eye on fashion law, you know this stuff happens all the time! If the biggest shoemaker in Mexico started selling red-bottomed pumps -- explaining that they were simply inspired by the very real, existing cultural impact of red-bottomed heels -- you'd better bet Louboutin would be suing. It just doesn't seem right that fashion houses get to pillage the world's cultural history while gatekeeping their own.
posted by grandiloquiet at 9:56 PM on June 14 [27 favorites]


Yeah, for politicians' and activists' end games, it's not usually about payouts or production changes, but swaying popular opinion. From an activist's point of view, sometimes it can be enough leverage to make substantive change if one makes the proper critical observation at the right time, with the right fulcrum of an audience. Popular opinion can sway a powerful celebrity or corporation to make substantive change just by getting enough PR aimed in the right direction.

Sometimes you can even get a conscientious celebrity or social media conscious corporation to do something with one astute, meme-worthy observation. And in politics, just being able to do that, to show effectiveness, to show ability to influence or manipulate public opinion, is enough to scare your opponent into shying the way you want them to. (And enough to build one's general influence, attention, and power-base.)

With current global, Western, emphasis on social justice, and with focus on pressuring wrongdoers and profiteers into making amends for current and past injustice, an astute politician can use that climate to do anything. I assume Frausto is hoping some amends will be made. I figure she can use that power, that influence, to later specify whatever she feels would be appropriate measures for amends-making.
posted by kalessin at 10:10 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


"this foreign thing has a sexual frisson because of its connection to colonialism"

Oh my gaaaaahd, you've articulated something that's been puzzling me for years. Why do people get so defensive about critiques of cultural appropriation in fashion? Because it's Viagra for cultural imperialists, who are already upset that they can't be literal imperialists like their ancestors. You can't take their colonial sex fantasies away from them too, it's all they have left (besides all the other things they actually have left). The implicit promise of good old fashioned unequal power dynamics gets them hard. To wear the fetishized artifacts of another culture without their consent is a form of sexual play, made more amusing/arousing by the fact that it can be acted out in public. "Play", that is, not in the sense of a fair game with agreed-upon rules, but in the sense that predators toy with their prey before killing them.

(The text of this comment originally consisted of "White people can't cum without cultural appropriation!" but I thought some elaboration was needed.)
posted by hyperbolic at 11:17 PM on June 14 [12 favorites]


Mr. Gordon hasn't replicated the specific cut of indigenous clothing, but the embroidery or weaving pattern definitely appear to be copied. It's not super difficult to see that.

Yes, I want to second this. These clothes are not just “inspired by,” they are made from copied images and patterns that have cultural significance. Is the only reason some feel bad about knockoff designer bags because of copyright law violations, or because we think it is unfair theft in some larger sense? For me it’s the latter. And those cases don’t have the additional significance of a huge, well-funded fashion house taking from indigenous people.

Again, if Hermès can put the effort in to work with local artisans on scarf patterns, certainly Carolina Herrera can afford to do the same. But I suspect this was more about Wes Gorden’s romanticism of his luxury vacation in Mexico and less about respect for an authentic culture...
posted by sallybrown at 6:34 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


It just doesn't seem right that fashion houses get to pillage the world's cultural history while gatekeeping their own.

Sounds exactly like modern music vs. folk and blues, with the recording industry wanting royalties for playing the stuff Elvis and Zeppelin stole from black musicians.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:01 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


I haven’t been able to get to the linked NY Times article because I don’t have a subscription, but if Gordon really is saying he was paying homage to Herrera’s “lifestyle” as a native Venezuelan by using traditional Mexican embroidery, that’s a whole other issue—trying to use the design house founder’s ethnicity as a cover for cultural appropriation of a different country.
posted by sallybrown at 7:22 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Sounds exactly like modern music vs. folk and blues, with the recording industry wanting royalties for playing the stuff Elvis and Zeppelin stole from black musicians.

I mean it's just a normal Tuesday in the world of white appropriativeness. It's always seemed like a bait and switch, and definitely it's a double-standard.
posted by kalessin at 8:20 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


sallybrown: Yeah, he does partially use her background as a cover. From the NYTimes article:
The collection, in sunrise shades, had been inspired, said Wes Gordon, the current creative director of the label, by the lifestyle of its founder, Mrs. Herrera, who is Venezuelan, and the idea of a “Latin holiday.” Recently Mr. Gordon and his husband had taken a trip to Mexico, where, he said, they were “mesmerized by its beauty.” The show notes given out at the time name-checked “Sunrise in Tulum; the light of Lima; Strolls in Mexico City; The waves of José Ignacio; Dancing in Buenos Aires; The colors of Cartagena.”
posted by primalux at 8:29 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Sunrise in Tulum

could have guessed that one...
posted by sallybrown at 8:32 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I tend to think that there is no utopian capitalist fashion industry. That's not the same as saying "there are no trends or clothes or styles that can be produced in a way that is equitable", but when you look at the history of the fashion industry itself, the fashion industry as it actually exists under capitalism, it's not something where you can just swap in, eg, an Indigenous design collective for Chanel. This isn't about talent or designs; it's about the ways that exoticism and transgression, not to mention theft of wages and ideas, drive the fashion industry. Fashion that was produced equitably by an Indigenous design collective and sold around the world would require a total transformation of the fashion industry into something utterly different.

It may yet happen, but not until the debate moves forward. Everyone knows by now that the system is broken, that this is the end game, the only thing they have left to sell us. In my cynical way, knowing far more than is good for me about fashion and its social agendas, I see this whole cultural appropriation discourse as a self-perpetuating circus, one of the major factors fuelling the business right now, from the top down, in a very ugly and underhand way. It's far too difficult to address the endemic problems of cannibalistic consumerism, so instead the entire industry engages in a flame war about signifiers and identity politics, because it's the only thing it can do to survive.

On the face of it, nobody seems to doubt that Wes Gordon has fucked up, and should expect to be called out on it. All in all, it's a moribund, derivative collection, drawing on some entrenched cliches of ethnicity and womanhood, so no problem there. Then again, they've probably done their homework, and the market he's selling into may not be so far removed from the culture he's appropriating from, which would make the whole discussion as much about class and politics as it is about race, but let's not be so pedantic when there's outrage to be stoked on Twitter.

I'm guessing that many women who would buy this collection would do so not because they want to impersonate something, but because it makes them feel nostalgic, it expresses something about their identity and they can buy it at the mall, or they just like the colours. The brand calculate that they can get away with it because Herrera is Venezuelan, and that the customer is not so easily fooled. Meanwhile, the surrounding furore makes for provocative press, everyone looks good to their friends and silly to their enemies and we all get a fine distraction from the more serious underlying problems, which both sides of this argument would do anything to avoid.

In the midst of all this is the rich tradition of South American textiles, among the most beautiful to be found anywhere in the world, and it merits consideration above and beyond any romantic mythologies of Indigenous Collectives. This is where mass produced industrialised fashion is a complete disaster, because the aesthetics of these kinds of crafts depend on small scale production with adaptation and refinement, rather than a seasonal cycle that just needs to sell things all the time. In this respect, I'm far from convinced that the political discourse is helpful to the artisans, because it's only a symptom of a much greater problem and it always ends in stalemate. The challenge is universal, not just for heritage crafts, but for any number of small apparel brands aiming to make quality clothing for the discerning wearer.

Most of the people I know who care about this stuff and work with it are far more interested in beautiful, functional objects than they are in cultural signifiers, which have a way of asserting themselves whether we like it or not. And while these things do need to be called out, a lot of the time they're just ... mistakes, made by a system that's beyond interrogation. The visual language runs ahead of the verbal, while the theorising doesn't always seem to have a solid grasp on why people wear what they do. I mean, it's all too easy to accuse someone of engaging in sexual power play or something, when in fact they just liked that particular colour combination. Without consideration of the context, it's meaningless.

Unless the calling out is accompanied by some broader examination, that goes beyond the grandstanding and point scoring and finds its way back to the human values expressed in our clothing, there's no way of changing anything. The entrenched divisions will remain in place, and the loudest voices will carry on shouting at women, queer people and minorities for whatever it is they're wearing. It was ever thus.

In other words, it's complicated. Cultural appropriation is only one of many enormous ethical challenges facing the fashion industry, and most of them are far more pressing. But very often, innovation in fashion can and does happen from the bottom up. If we can get past this, we may yet arrive at more sustainable, equitable models.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 9:36 AM on June 15 [6 favorites]


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