March 10, 2014

Assignment Time!: Pucci Goes Savage

In my critiques of non-Native fashion designers appropriating Native cultures and aesthetics in their collections, I often also look to the fashion writers to see how they understand, interpret, and talk about the garments. The results are saddening. Often, while the garments may be beautiful, and non-stereotypically 'Native', the fashion writers (the brand PR folks, the magazine editors, the fashion bloggers, etc) talk about the 'Native inspiration' in savage terms.

Case in point, the recent collection by Emilio Pucci. If you look at the garments alone, they are quite beautiful (or whatever), as is customary for Italian couture. However, in their Press Release for the collection, which was titled "Call of the Wild," savagery was not just alluded to, but shoved down your throat.

You can read the full description here, but I've taken the liberty of pasting it below for your reading enjoyment.
Emilio Pucci Fall Winter 2014-15: CALL OF THE WILD 
For Fall Winter 2014, the Pucci girl goes in search of a savage chic. Creative Director Peter Dundas creates a quasi-primitive, luxury-kissed landscape for her journey, drawing upon the decorative cultures of ancient Native American and Inuit people. Drawn in earthy colors and rich with intricate handcraft, a surge of animalistic energy pulses through the collection. But the savage is cut with the civil, leaving a rigorously chic refinement wafting through the air. 
Pucci’s trademark print is, as always, twisted into new propositions. The iconic Orchidea is overlayed with wildly digitized pony pattern, intertwining the classic with the contemporary. Silver studding creates an armor on filmy motifs. The feral graphics of indigenous tribes are recreated in elaborate 3-D patterns. Conceived in Navajo-knitwear, beaded and threaded embroideries, velvet jacquards and intarsia fur, they are all new expressions of the noble Italian House prints. 
Fur unleashes the season’s look. Lynx is recreated and woven in fox. Wild horse Apaloosa patternrs are printed on calf and glossy pony is patched together with mink in complex collages on hooded Eskimo parkas lined in beaver or lambswool. 
A touch of the 1970s tinges the silhouettes, tugging them between masculine and feminine, between functional and frivolous. Wide leg or lace up trousers, open shirts with neck scarfs and lean long jackets contrast with the sensuality of languid gowns in liquid jersey, held up with just a hint of gold chain. For evening, mannish tuxedo pants, shirts dresses and sweaters, are all gilded in 3D micro gold studding in tribal geometric patterns. A shower of metal chains or gold and cream beaded fringe washes over sexy short evening dresses. Finishing the look, the Pucci Girl gets laced up in open weave stiletto sandals and deer skin boots, channeling a wild interior that is enveloped in polished glamour.

For professors out there, here's an assignment for your students: Print out this press release statement. Ask your students to circle loaded words and terms, and then draw a line to the margin where they can add synonyms. What is Pucci saying about Native American and Inuit people? Do these statement support important inherent Indigenous rights? Do they support acts that protect Indigenous women from violence, do they support our rights to land and water? In contrast, what does the press release say about Italian people? What impact does this kind of mindset have on Indigenous people? Lastly - is there any hope? Will we ever be able to escape or change this form of labeling? What is a first step that we can make to help facilitate a forward, positive movement?

5 comments:

  1. "But the savage is cut with the civil"

    I almost just puked up in my mouth.

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  2. This is both galvanizing and depressing. I'm writing a paper on cultural appropriation in fashion, and I'm relatively aware of the popular cases: galliano, urban outfitters, katy perry, etc. but to see this just 7 days before the submission of my thesis... This is gold (sadly).

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  3. Thanks for this idea. We have at our school historical images from the 1970s of non-Native students dressed in buckskin, moccasins, etc. I regularly use them to discuss the importance of historical context to critical thinking. The questions you provide above help me delve a bit deeper with my students. Cultural appropriation is very much on their radar, but they have difficulty articulating what troubles them. Great suggestion to come up with synonyms!

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  4. Here is the thing: designers can do proper research into whatever it is they are exploring and it really enriches the art. I thought the clothes were beautiful and it is too bad that the designer, the company and their customers missed the opportunity to be more enlightened by the work. Pucci needs to educate themselves, and if they do, I am sure it will show in the clothes. I would love to see European designers forge strong ties with the communities involved in the fur trade. I have been very struck by the #sealfie movement and I hope this bring attention to the fact there is a rich source of inspiration and a living culture available to European designers who work in fur.

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