Tag Archives: New York Times

Beauty and Fashion: Did Carolina Herrera Copy Mexican Designs?

Why should we care?

Yes, I agree that Carolina Herrera’s new 2020 resort collection, just unveiled, is beautiful. The collection, the company says, is inspired by Mexican indigenous designs. When you look at the clothes, some of the designs are startling — exact duplicates of textiles made by hand in Mexican villages for centuries. Excusing this behavior because it is beautiful, ignores deeper questions about race, culture, heritage, history. Why don’t we call it what it is? Plagiarism. Stealing. Copying.

Okay. I’m angry.

Outrage is not based on whether a fashion house creates a beautiful line of clothing for it’s ultra-rich clientele nor does the beauty as a subjective assessment, figure into the discussion.

It is based on how and why indigenous people create the cloth they wear, who has authority and power, and who receives recognition and compensation.

Yesterday, Vanessa Friedman, fashion editor of the New York Times, wrote Homage or Theft? Carolina Herrera Called Out By Mexican Minister. It fuels the conversation about cultural appropriation issues, a hot topic today among those of us who respect indigenous people and what they make. Theirs is a history of culture, family, storytelling, spirituality and belief, through cloth as a cultural expression.

Lifting designs out of context violates the very foundation of culture. We have a hard time understanding this in the USA because we are bred in a culture of be more, earn more, get more, compete more. Here in Mexico, culture is based on community, family and ancient rituals. Clothing interprets this.

What fascinated me most was reading the comments from seemingly intelligent, considerate readers of the New York Times. I encourage you to read the comments section. There are over 450 comments. Overwhelmingly, people feel that:

  • the Herrera designs are beautiful and unique, and in no way resemble the indigenous clothing style of, for example, the Otomi traditional embroidered dress
  • cultural appropriation is PC — politically correct references that which is used to avoid offensive language
  • there are no legal restrictions on design, and runway designs are being copied and mass-marketed everywhere
  • imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
  • artists and creatives take their inspiration from wherever they want
  • political correctness in art and fashion has gone too far

I was surprised to read the responses that confirm that the Western world is either ignorant of or doesn’t appreciate the issues of disenfranchisement facing talented people, who are marginalized with little or no voice and have no legal protections. I am angry that people are blinded to human rights. Someone said, There is no such thing as cultural identity.

But, why should I be surprised? Indigenous design theft is only one more version of the power and wealth imbalance of conquerors with their attendant racism.

Here is what I wrote in the NY Times comment section in response to the Vanessa Friedman article:

Here we go again! This is a recurring theme of the privileged who think that “borrowing” from indigenous cultures is equal to paying homage, respect, and XXX Many of you label cultural appropriation as PC. It’s actually a real problem in Mexico when poor people living in remote areas have no voice to protect what belongs to them. People living and creating in indigenous villages for thousands of years don’t know about PC. They do know that working the cloth takes months. They learned it from their grandmothers and the designs include sacred symbols that have cultural, spiritual and social meaning. There is no context for the designs that haven been lifted and repurposed for the ultra-rich. There is no compensation to villages whose designs have been stolen. These designs are unique. Unlike music or architecture that builds upon what came before. It is different. These are designs copied verbatim. You get thrown out of college for that! Remember? Yes, the CH designs are beautiful – but because the original designs are beautiful. Let’s get it right. Let’s collaborate, not steal. Let’s employ at a fair wage. Let’s justly compensate. This is not about liberal or conservative. This is about doing what is right in the world. I’ve been living part-time in Oaxaca and working with indigenous artisans for years. Their lives are humble, they are generous, and they are concerned about loss of culture because clothing here is identity. We can help, not hinder the cause.

In response to Gail Pellet on my Facebook page, I say:

We have seen here in Mexico with the Isabel Marant case of stealing Tlahuitoltepec designs, that lawsuits don’t work. The indigenous designs are too old to be covered by copyright and patent protection, and are legally considered part of the public domain. However, the patrimony of Mexican pre-Hispanic culture is at risk. Invasion continues in its modern form.

And, in a conversation with Carry Somers, founder of #fashionrevolution on her Instagram page, I noted:

… the luxury brands are stealing our indigenous/native designs without compensation. There is a poverty of ethics in our world.

She says: We need to look to the Nagoya Protocol to protect indigenous knowledge around biological resources and need some comparable protection for indigenous designs. Let’s hope @susana.harp.oaxaca (singer turned senator from Oaxaca) can do something about this.

Please read the NY Times feature, then the comments, and comment, too, if you like. Please don’t comment unless you read the article. Thank you.

NY Times Mentions Norma Schafer: In Mexico, Weavers Embrace Natural Alternatives to Toxic Dyes

Click here to read article. 

First, a special call-out to Porfirio Gutierrez and his family for all they do to promote the use of natural dyes in the making of their hand-woven tapestries. His sister Juana is a master dyer and his brother-in-law Antonio innovates on design and materials. Congratulations on this feature story!

I was honored to be interviewed a couple of months ago by New York Times Science reporter Erica Goode to offer source information about the natural dye world in Teotitlan del Valle.

Of course, I emphasized that in addition to Porfirio’s family, there are about a dozen other families or family groups who are dedicated to preserving the natural dye culture. This includes my host family, Galeria Fe y Lola, Federico Chavez Sosa and Dolores Santiago Arrellanas. This takes time, commitment and an investment of more expensive materials.

Please join me on a one-day natural dye and weaving study tour to explore our weaving culture in more depth.

The Dyeing Life: Values and Commitment to Family, Art

This is a short three-minute video from the New York Times that I have to share with you. In 1994, I was in a Maio village in China, a 9-hour bus ride from the Sichuan capital of Chengdu. Not only does this video remind me of that visit, it retells how important it is to carry forward ancient traditions of dying cloth with natural materials. It is about more than the beauty of the textile, it is about honoring values, traditions and cultural art forms wherever we find them: Mexico, China, India or elsewhere. It is about how to recalibrate by understanding how important the natural world is to our total well-being.

Mexico is New Land of Opportunity Says New York Times

Professionals, entrepreneurs, artists and filmmakers from Europe, Asia and the Americas are moving to Mexico to find a business and creative environment conducive to self-expression and financial success.

As China becomes too costly for manufacturing, Europe too glutted with educated people and limited job prospects, and the United States closed to innovation without huge sums for investment, Mexico is becoming the new land of opportunity.

You can read The New York Times story here.

I have found this to be true for me, as interest and registrations for our workshops continue to grow.  As a destination to discover, Mexico has a rich cultural history, incredible arts and crafts, and a relaxed atmosphere that is conducive to self-expression.

Puebla is the Perfect Stopover Between Oaxaca and Mexico City

The New York Times just published 36 Hours in Puebla, Mexico by travel writer Freda Moon, who did a similar feature about Oaxaca a few months ago.  Freda listed many of my favorite things to do, see, visit, shop for and eat.  Puebla is unique. The city is a blend of Spanish colonial with Moorish-Moslem influences brought from Spain during the conquest.  This is evident in both architecture and food.  In the early 1900’s, the city became a favorite of German immigrants, one reason Volkswagen selected Puebla as a manufacturing and assembly site in the 1960’s.

Here are a few extra tidbits of WHAT TO DO AND SEE IN PUEBLA to supplement Freda’s list:

1. Pan de Zacatlan: Relleno de Queso.  I stumbled upon this authentic European-style bakery walking from Talavera Uriarte to Talavera Celia and after a meditative moment at The Rosary Chapel in Santo Domingo Church.

  

The pastries here are amazing.  Most are stuffed with sweetened queso fresco and taste like eating a cheesecake empañada. The shop sells fresh cheesecakes, cheese,  the flan ranks a 9+ in my book, and it’s OMG for the Pan de Elote.  I sampled just about everything and my eyes were bigger than my stomach.  I had the empañada con queso for dinner during a rain-thunder-lightening storm so strong that I didn’t want to leave my comfortable hotel room. The rest of the goody bag came back to the U.S. with me.  My son and I ate what was left for breakfast in Long Beach, California, the next day.

   

Pan de Zacatlan, 4 Oriente No. 402, Puebla, Pue., Mexico, tel (222) 246 5676, pandezacatlan@hotmail.com. Open every day, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, Sundays and festivals, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

La Dueña, Pan de Zacatlan

Hungry for meat?  Turn left out the door and a couple of doors down is a traditional  restaurant serving lamb grilled on a spit with homemade pan Arabe (pita bread).  These are all over town, a testimony to the influences of pre-Catholic Spain imported to Mexico.

2.  Talavera Uriarte, 4 Poniente, No. 911. So much has been written about this venerable ceramics house that there’s not much left to say.  Their customer service is impeccable, quality superb, and packing and shipping always reliable.  Nothing ever arrives broken.  Ask for Ana!

Maceta for my sister. Uriarte drilled a perfect drainage hole while I waited.

3.  Talavera de las Americas,  7 Poniente 510 . Col. San Pedro Cholula, Cholula, Puebla. Tel. (222)261-0367.  Their operation is a very small, family-owned business and they “bend over backwards” for the customer.  It’s worth the visit to Cholula since the painting on the clay is very fine and detailed, the clay body is very light, and the work rivals it’s better known competitors at half the price!  We have purchased here directly and enjoyed the experience.

4.  Hotel Real Santander, 7 Oriente, No. 13, Puebla, two-blocks from the Zocalo.  These are not rooms, they are spacious luxury suites with thick comforters and towels, and excellent beds,  starting at 800 pesos a night in the off-season. Hotel Real Santander is a perfect, quiet hideaway between the Museo Amparo, the photography museum, and …

5. Across the street is La Quinta de San Antonio, my favorite antiques shop in Puebla.  Contact owner Antonio Ramirex Priesca by email.

6.  Churches on every corner, too numerous to list them all.  When you get there, follow the city guide and map to explore.  But, be certain to FIRST VISIT the Rosary Chapel at Santo Domingo Church.  The gold and glitz dazzles.

 

Some of the sculpted heads here remind me of the interior carved wood and painted figures in the extraordinary indigenous church at Tonanzintla.

  

7.  Talavera Celia.  You can find this good quality DO4 Talavera ceramics at Celia’s Café. 5 Oriente 608, Centro Histórico PueblaPuebla. C.P. 72000. Tel: 01 (222) 242 36 63, near the antiques district and weekend flea market.

A note on Talavera Ceramics:  there are only 10 authorized DO4 makers of traditional talavera ceramics in Puebla, Mexico.  More talavera is produced here than is Spain where the antique methods have almost died out.  I list only the best quality talavera ceramics makers on this blog and you can be assured that they all produce DO4 highest quality.  I would steer you away from buying from Talavera Armando — their customer service and shipping is poor and their products arrive broken.

On a personal note:  I will usually book a flight in and out of Mexico City, take the ADO bus from Oaxaca to Puebla, spend a night or two, and capture the colonial charm that makes Puebla so special.  Then, I will go to the Estrella Roja bus station on 4 Poniente to buy and board a luxury Saab Scania bus complete with WiFi  heading to the Benito Juarez International Airport for my flight to the U.S.