A couple days ago I went to a TJ Maxx in Massachusetts, and my sister and I were oo-ing and ahh-ing over some gorgeous studded Valentino heels. I grabbed the box to look at the price tag (way out of my budget), but then flipped it over, and saw this.
That’s a headdress. A sacred headdress. Again.
I literally have no more words to talk about the ways these warbonnets have been commodified, separated from the cultures from which they come, and appropriated in advertising, costuming, whatever. I, literally, have been writing about this phenomenon for seven years. SEVEN YEARS! In internet years that’s truly forever.
So to recap, in 2011, I wrote a piece called “But why can’t I wear a hipster headdress.” I wrote it out of frustration with the (then) burgeoning trend of non-Native people wearing headdresses at music festivals. Now, all these years later I should probably revisit it, but the arguments still (pretty much) stand. After that, I wrote well over 15 different posts about various celebrities and designers wearing headdresses. Drew Barrymore, Amy Poehler, Tom Ford, Khloe Kardashian, Karlie Kloss, and on and on. That doesn’t include the music festivals, the offensive parties, the advertising campaigns, or the fashion collections. Hundreds of examples. So at this point, I always have a very hard time allowing anyone to use the ignorance defense. Even international brands like Valentino–you should know better…ESPECIALLY in this case.
This is a unique case that warrants a blog post (these days I rarely get riled up enough to write a new post about each headdress instance) but in this situation my anger stems from the fact that last week I used Valentino as an example of how mainstream designers can do collaborations with Native designers in a non-appropriative and positive way.
In case you weren’t aware, in 2015 Valentino reached out to amazing Michif artist Christi Belcourt to see if they could use her painting Water Song to create fabric for their 2016 resort line. The painting itself is gorgeous, and a striking example of Métis florals and traditional beadwork designs in a contemporary way.
Before agreeing to collaborate, Christi did her research. She was quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying, “I needed to know if they had ever been accused of cultural appropriation, if they had ever had models walk down the runway in feathers or headdresses.” She also asked about their environmental track record, “Water Song is all about the sacredness of water, and our responsibility to the water and the earth. It would go against everything I believe in to be involved with a company that was abusive to the environment and to the human beings from whom they source materials.” [So note: She specifically asked if they had been accused of cultural appropriation. Meaning there was a conversation around the idea.]
After feeling secure in the ethics of the company, she went ahead with the collaboration, and said, “I couldn’t have dreamed of anything better, There was nothing for me to say but that I loved them.”
From the Globe and Mail article: “Her experience with Valentino was a model of respectful collaboration, she said, quite unlike the insensitive rip-off of indigenous cultures perpetrated last spring by Canadian designers Dean and Dan Caten of Dsquared2, whose “dsquaw” line earned them a drubbing in social and mainstream media.” In case you don’t remember the dsqu*w case: here’s the story.
So after agreeing to the collaboration, Valentino created gorgeous textiles from Christi’s painting, and launched their resort line:
There are so many more beautiful images if you google.
So after all this, we have a headdress on a box?
I haven’t had time to do a deep google to find out when this box was in circulation, for which collection, etc. At TJ Maxx things are usually several seasons old, so I have no idea if this marketing came before or after the collaboration with Christi. I’m going to assume after, since it’s been about two years since the launch of the line.
I’m just sick of giving non-Natives an inch and they take 10 million miles. We reward companies who perform the most basic of human decency, and then they turn around and do exactly what they shouldn’t. We see this all the time in “allies” in Indian Country–folks who may have entered into communities or organizing in a good way, but then take the label of ally as a check mark, rather than something they have to continually work at. I saw it at Standing Rock–I saw non-Natives taking up space, talking over Indigenous peoples, wearing the most ridiculous of appropriative outfits, behaving in offensive ways. But they thought they were in the clear, because they were there with “good intentions.”
Really I don’t have much more to say other than we see you, Valentino. And you’ve just behaved like every colonizer ever when Native peoples provide something of value with the expectation of reciprocity. Relationships go both ways, and you just completely screwed up your side of the relationship. Native people aren’t props, we’re partners.
Looking forward to a presentation next month where I can talk about you as an example of colonizing behavior, rather than a shining example.