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Annals of cultural appropriation irony: Latina fashionista Carolina Herrera accused of stealing “indigenous” designs from…fellow Latinos

June 17, 2019
Photo: New York Times

It’s delicious irony time: Latina fashion designer gets accused of “cultural appropriation” by….other Latinos.

And you can’t get more Latina than fashion queen and brand tycoon Carolina Herrera:

She was born María Carolina Josefina Pacanins y Niño[6] on January 8, 1939, in Caracas, Venezuela,[1] to Guillermo Pacanins Acevedo, an air force officer and former governor of Caracas,[7] and María Cristina Niño Passios.[

And then, not one but two Latino husbands:

In 1957, at the age of 18, she married Guillermo Behrens Tello, a Venezuelan landowner.[31] Before their eventual divorce in 1964, they became the parents of two daughters:[32]…

In 1968, in Caracas, she married Reinaldo Herrera Guevara, who had inherited the Spanish title The 5th Marquis of Torre Casa in 1962 upon his father’s death.[35][36][37] Reinaldo was the host of Buenos Días, a Venezuelan morning-television news program and the elder son of Don Reinaldo Herrera Uslar, 4th Marquis of Torre Casa, a prominent Venezuelan sugarcane plantation owner, aristocrat and art collector.[36] Therefore, by marriage, Carolina held the title The Marquise consort of Torre Casa, until it was retracted in 1992, as Reinaldo had issued no son.[38] Her husband is a special-projects editor of Vanity Fair magazine.[8] Together, they have two daughters, and six grandchildren…

Ookay. But then we have this (reported in the New York Times):

This week Alejandra Frausto, the cultural minister of Mexico, wrote a letter to Carolina Herrera, the New York fashion brand, accusing it of using, for its own ends, embroidery techniques and patterns specific to certain Mexican indigenous communities in the resort 2020 collection, which was shown in a series of appointments last week at the Herrera headquarters in the garment district….

[T]the collection…included floral and bird embroidery on strapless gowns, perforated leather coats and baby-doll cocktail dresses that Ms. Frausto cited as belonging to the community of Tenango de Doria in Hidalgo, as well as a striped knit shirtdress that she saw as too closely resembling a serape from Saltillo.

[W]hile in the past such offenses have most often been uncovered by industry watchdogs and the groups in question, this is the first time a national government has gotten involved.

In the letter, Ms. Frausto wrote, “This is a matter of ethical consideration that obliges us to speak out and bring an urgent issue to the UN’s sustainable development agenda: promoting inclusion and making those who are invisible visible.”

The Social Justice Tweeters chipped in:

This is THEFT plain and simple!

and:

designer calls it a “tribute”. I call it plagiarism and stealing and making a hell of a lot of money from it, too.

The fact that the Herrera organization’s creative director, Wes Gordon, is gay cut no ice:

Recently Mr. Gordon and his husband had taken a trip to Mexico, where, he said, they were “mesmerized by its beauty.”…

When Mr. Gordon posted photos from the line on his personal Instagram page, the comments were likewise dismayed.

Andto top it all off:

Herrera, which is owned by the Spanish fashion and beauty group Puig, has not posted a public response on any of its social media channels, issued a clear apology or revealed plans for reparations…

No “plans for reparations”! We can’t have that!

Making the Latina-appropriates-from-Latinos irony even more delicious is the fact that the “indigenous” embroidery “techniques” that Herrera and her minions supposedly stole (see gown in photo above, although the “embroidery” on it actually appears to be a print) aren’t as age-old as you might think. In fact, the charmingly primitive-looking bird-and-flower patterns were unknown in Mexico until the 1960s–when some entrepreneurial locals came up with the idea as a way to make some money after their farms turned non-productive:

The Otomí, from the municipality of Tenango de Doria, an area of the Eastern Sierra Madre in the Mexican state of Hidalgo, have for centuries embellished the ancestral costume worn by local women. The colorful, intricate designs of their dress were characterized by elaborate embroidery and brocade patterns. Only 50 years ago—following the severe drought of the1960s which devastated the agricultural economy in the area—did the Otomí bring their creations to market. However, it was soon apparent that the intensive labor required by detailed traditional methods were not economically viable. In response, the Otomí adapted to the reality of the situation and re-envisioned their embroidery process. By creating a more elemental style of needlework and design, they were able to apply the craft to a greater range of textiles.

In other words, it’s “indigenous” art specifically created for the tourist trade. Seems that the Mexicans themselves were doing cultural appropriation long before anyone in the West thought of it.

It’s layers upon layers of Latino irony.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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