The Washington Post

U.N. expert offended by Rodarte Aboriginal-print fashion

A model walks the runway at the Rodarte fall 2012 fashion show. (Neilson Barnard/GETTY IMAGES)

Rodarte’s fall 2012 line was inspired by the rugged Australian outback — shearling coats, earthy reds and oranges, and patterns of dots and handprints that reference hand-painted Aboriginal art. The patterns, which reference indigenous mythology and creation stories, are highly spiritual.

“It is completely insensitive to Aboriginal art and spirituality and land and how they are inextricably linked,” Megan Davis, an indigenous Australian lawyer and an expert member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) told Frockwriter. “The sisters admit they have never been to Australia, so they must have had ‘inspiration’ from books, images, web or Aboriginal art, including 60,000 year old rock art – a clan’s songlines, story, life and very essence, with responsibilities and reciprocal obligations to land and kin.”

It’s similar to last fall’s fracas over Urban Outfitters’ use of the word “Navajo” in describing a line of Native American print-inspired products, including panties and a flask. Last month, the Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters for trademark infringement and for violating the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which makes it illegal to suggest that merchandise is made by American Indians when it is not.

The Rodarte fall 2012 collection is modeled during Fashion Week in New York. (Jason DeCrow/AP)

Urban Outfitters may not have learned its lesson — it offended Irish American groups with its St. Patrick’s Day shirts about binge drinking — but Nike has, after it apologized to the Irish for its “Black and Tan” shoes, which referenced not only the beer drink, but also a violent paramilitary group in the Irish revolution. For Rodarte, Urban Outfitters and every other brand out there, this is just another reminder that both sides (including Davis, who seems to have spoken too soon) need to do their research when it comes to cultural sensitivity.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.


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