With a little over one month until we reach 2018, I would think cultural appropriation would be a thing of the past. But when I saw the cultural appropriation at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2017, which involved ripping off Native-inspired regalia and accessories and calling it "Nomadic Adventure," I had to shake my head. The behemoth lingerie brand has a lot more learning to do.
If you're not familiar, every year the Victoria's Secret show is made up of themed segments. This year, the one that Twitter is finding issue with is the segment called “Nomadic Adventure”. With looks inspired by tribal and Native American dress, I couldn't help but think not again while I watched the show.
It's interesting to note that the Victoria's Secret press room describes the "Nomadic Adventure" section as inspired by indigenous African cultures. By using prints, silhouettes, and beading techniques, the brand wanted the opportunity to showcase the "beautiful, bold colors and tribal designs that incorporate animal prints distinctive of Africa’s wildlife."
But if that's the case, not only are we dealing with cultural appropriation, but mixing cultures as well. Austrian newcomer Nadine Leopold walked the "A Winter's Tale" segment in a feathery headpiece and it bares resemblance to a warbonnet, which is not a traditionally African accessory at all.
Traditional warbonnets, or the large feather headdresses we see in movies and the silver screen, are actually worn by only a dozen or so Indian tribes in the Great Plains region. These tribes are the Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Plains Cree tribes. The warbonnets, seen as a symbol of respect and bravery in many Native American tribes, are only worn by chiefs and warriors. I don't want to call Leopold out, but the brand could have chosen anything else but this outfit for her. This isn't the first time a model wore a warbonnet, either.
Back in 2012, each of the Victoria's Secret models walking in the show represented a month of the year. Karlie Kloss (aka Miss November) walked in a Native American-inspired headdress and turquoise jewelry. Now I love Kloss and this is not a way to bash her (she tweeted an apology), or any of the models, but putting a Caucasian woman in Native attire is not only disrespectful to generations that have lost their lives to colonialism, but it also puts Kloss in a precarious position.
After the negative press, the look was pulled from final edits of the show's broadcast. And again last year, the brand debuted a series of looks that people felt appropriated Chinese culture, when they even put model Elsa Hosk in a dragon creation. So with all of the past backlash, I'd guess the brand would and should rightfully know better. Especially since they released statements to apologize more than once.
It's understood that the opposing argument would be that viewers should be happy the brand is admiring the beauty of a culture and putting it on the main stage, but there is a massive distinction between appreciation and appropriation. As much as I'm obsessed with Adriana Lima, for them to have her open the "Nomadic Adventure" section was so frustrating to see. I'm not the only one to become disappointed in this segment, which had so much potential, because Twitter became up in arms about the whole thing.
Also in this day and age, where something like putting non-native models in traditional Native dress should be recognized as at best incongruous, and at worst offensive, it's difficult to imagine that the brand didn't think this would cause an issue. So there are two scenarios, with neither being positive. Either Victoria's Secret dressed the models without caring about the backlash, or there aren't enough women of color employees actually working for the brand. After all of the design meetings, fittings, rehearsals, and everything else that goes into this show, no one thought this was a bad idea?
To top it off, if the segment was potentially intended to showcase African culture, that would've been amazing. How awesome would it be to see many black models dressed in traditional African patterns? This should have been a chance for them to relish in that moment. Instead, it was taken away by a willful ignorance.