After the Mexican government called out French fashion designer Isabel Marant for appropriating traditional indigenous patterns in her latest collection, the designer has offered an apology.
The issue was brought to the global spotlight when Mexican Cultural Minister Alejandra Frausto Guerrero published an open letter, demanding an explanation from the luxury designer: “In the 2020-21 Etoilé winter-fall collection designs that belong to the Purépecha culture of Michoacán appear. Some symbols that you took have a profound meaning for this culture… These symbols are very old and have been conserved thanks to the memory of the artisans.
“I ask you, Ms. Isabel Marant, to publicly explain on what grounds you privatize a collective property … and how its use benefits the creator communities.”
Marant said she was “enormously saddened” by the accusations. The designer explained she had wanted to “promote a craft and pay tribute to the aesthetic to which it is linked”. Marant went on to explain that future designs would properly “pay tribute to our sources of inspiration”.
In response, Ms Frausto Guerrero said: “When a tribute is made to a certain culture, that culture should be included, because although it may be an ancestral culture, it is alive.”
“The communities should decide whether to accept it. You have the chance to be an ally in the defence of the cultural heritage of peoples and communities, recognising the great value of this knowledge that we must respect,” she said.
This isn’t the first time Isabel Marant has been embroiled in a case of cultural appropriation. In 2015 the company was accused by the Mexican government of plagiarising designs from Mexico’s state of Oaxaca.
The debate in fashion circles over cultural appropriation is intensifying and the Mexican government is cracking down on designers culturally appropriating the work of marginalised artisan communities. Last year it announced it would introduce stricter copyright laws by recognising these communities as owners of cultural techniques and intellectual property to “tackle the plagiarism that different indigenous peoples and communities have suffered”.
Last year, Frausto also called out Venezuala-born fashion designer Carolina Herrera and French fashion house Louis Vuitton accusing them of appropriating traditional embroidery techniques and distinctive patterns unique to indigenous Mexican communities.
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Cover image of Isabel Marant cape featuring designs unique to Purepecha community that the Mexican government alleges Marant co-opted.