Cultural Appropriation on the DSquared2 Milan Fashion Week Catwalk

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location 1700 block of 2nd Avenue NW

Shame on you DSquared2, shame on you.

Twin brothers Dean and Dan Caten must have been absolutely nonsensical in their new brand’s presentation at Milan Fashion Week. It was, “partly inspired by Canadian Indian Tribes.” They initially named this collection “DSquaw.”  I take issue not so much with the collection itself, rather the description and launch of it. There appeared to be no consultation, collaboration or basic human respect for the communities they were “inspired” by. Since the much deserved backlash, the purposely used hashtag #DSquaw and #eksimeaks were removed from the brand’s social media accounts. They were replaced with #DSquare but the damage was done.

“Squaw” is an Algonkian word that means the “totality of women” but has been used out of context and mispronounced by people who don’t understand its history and likely shouldn’t pretend to. If you didn’t know that, all you need to know is that it’s a horribly offensive racial slur that most Canadians have abolished from their vocabulary. 

“Eskimeaks” is reference to the word “eskimo.” This is an Inuit and Yupik peoples reference that non-aboriginals primarily have bastardized since colonization. In short, it’s also a derogatory slur. Thankfully, like any bad trend, its use and popularity is on the decline. I wish a certain CFL team *ahem* would join the 21st century and think about the stubborn, prolonged use of their team’s racial slur.

Back to DSquared2: Why would two celebrated Canadian designers be so asinine to call cultural appropriation ‘inspiration’ and then refuse to comment on their blunder? The website describes the collection proudly using the following as background: “The enchantment of Indian tribes. The confident attitude of British aristocracy.” To me that translates to something closer to: “Boastfully stealing the symbols, and dignity, of Aboriginal culture from the Aboriginal peoples.” The website describes the collection further, “In a captivating play on contrasts: an ode to America’s native tribes meets the noble spirit of Old Europe.” Can you believe this? How about using “ethnic makeover” to describe an updated bag design? Yes, they did.

I have yet to see a statement or apology from the brand.

I am flabbergasted and saddened. How did they, especially as Canadians, think this was okay? Why did they not collaborate--or consult, at the very least--with Aboriginal professionals in the similar craft on this collection if they really wanted to do this? And if those two failed, how did this make it past their marketing, press and media relations’ team? My final question is: who is getting fired at DSquared2? 

How many times does a touted member the fashion community need to make this mistake? The fashion community needs to make a stand on celebrating race and diversity and remove support from the vile people who don’t get it. Such as this brand who needs to reconsider its Creative Director. 

Cultural inspiration and collaboration with the source culture can be a beautiful and powerful thing. Tokenism is not. Ripping off historical symbols of a culture one doesn’t understand or belong to and presenting it ignorantly as unique art is disgusting. At the very least it’s certainly not stylish.

I urge you all to consider your support of this collection. If this is not okay with you, prove it in where you spend you time, your social media habits, and of course your purchasing power.

Is this collection fashionable to you or just a disaster on many levels?