On DSquared2’s Racist and Extraordinarily Offensive FW15 Line “DSquaw”


Canadian design duo, identical twin brothers Dean and Dan Caten, aka DSquared2, showed their latest line at Milan Fashion Week on Monday. In what can only be described as a desperate plea for attention, instead of coming up with an original idea or concept, they decided to misappropriate Native designs and patterns, and name their line “Dsquaw”—yet another misappropriation of a Native word, as well as a derogatory term for Native women.

DSquared2’s description (on their Facebook page) of their FW15 line reads:

“The enchantment of Canadian Indian tribes.
The confident attitude of the British aristocracy.
In a captivating play on contrasts: an ode to America’s native tribes meets the noble spirit of Old Europe. Magic and mysterious tribal influences meld with royal references in a bold, quite eccentric aesthetic, revealing luxurious materials and high-end, artisanal details.
A graphic pattern injects a folkloristic feel into a hooded fur intarsia coat. Gold thread details inspired by livery uniforms surface on pants, jackets and coats. Dresses with delicate drapes recall Victorian undergarments.
Geometric motifs with an indigenous flair give a twist to wool maxi ponchos and blanket skirts.
The dark color palette of regal English livery is juxtaposed with the warm tones of a Canadian earthy autumnal forest.
Dsquared2’s iconic Twin Peaks bag reveals an ethnic makeover. Tribal decorations pepper high heels with an edgy touch, while sandals are embellished with dazzling crystals. Maxi sparkling jewels add an extra dose of royalty to the look.”

I’m honestly not even sure where to start.

There is no way, that in 2015, DSquared can claim that they were unaware of the ignorance and inappropriateness of using aboriginal designs and headdresses. They are aware. They know what they’re doing.

They know that they’re disrespectfully lumping all indigenous people together into one group, which even they can’t seem to decide whether to describe as “Canadian Indian” or “America’s native” tribes, and therefore robbing them of their uniqueness—and treating all Natives as ‘Other’ (not to mention, “Magic and mysterious”).

They know that items such as headdresses and blankets, as well as the patterns and designs used, have major cultural significance to the tribes in which they are used. To take what is an important part of a person’s culture and describe it as “an ethnic makeover” and “a folkloristic feel” is to deduce it to a gimmick – something the Caten brothers are known for. As designers, they should be especially aware of the connection cultures have to fabrics, colours and patterns. They should know that when you steal those design elements, you are stealing a part of a culture – you’re saying that you can use it on a bag, or a sweater, just like you’ve stolen everything else.

As Adrienne at Native Appropriations said in a recent piece on NYFW:

We designed these images. We have the knowledge and understanding of what they mean and how they can be appropriately used. We evolved and developed and maintained our cultures for thousands of years… Our designs and cultural markers are used to “enhance” white culture, while white cultural artifacts are protected and policed… There should be no representations of us, without us. You want to draw upon Indigenous cultures for your line? Involve Indigenous artists and designers. There is no alternative answer.”

It is theft. When we have already taken so much away from Indigenous people, to then steal and profit from their cultural property, is more than just a slap in the face: You’re telling them that you still feel like you are better. That your colonial power gives you the right.

As Canadians, they should be especially aware of Canada’s atrocious past—and present— relationship with the Aboriginal peoples whom we took advantage of, attempted to kill off or culturally wipe out, forcibly took children away from, sexually abused – and on, and on. (That would be that good old “confident attitude of the British aristocracy” they are also claiming to try to evoke.)

Described as “an ode to America’s native tribes meets the noble spirit of Old Europe”—Because we all know that only good things happen when these two groups meet.

The final straw, the point where it turns from ‘OK maybe they are just wildly misinformed about Indigenous cultures and the racist implications of stealing tribal designs?’ to ‘They’re completely trolling us now’ lies in the name (and coinciding hashtag) of the line: “DSquaw.” Yes, really.

As in, “squaw”—the derogatory term used by English-speakers to slur Native women. In fact, it’s not even an English word at all—it is an Algonquian word that means ‘the totality of being female.’ It’s a term that no one in 2015 should be using, let alone famous designers on an international stage. Except, of course – for those trying to reclaim the word.

Imagine how you’d feel if they called their line “DCunt”—and maybe you’ll begin to get some, tiny semblance of the outrage that should be happening right now.

At a time when Aboriginal women represent only 4.3% of Canada’s female population, but 16% of the female homicides and 11.3% of the cases of missing women, when the UN is calling Canada out, telling us that our First Nations peoples are experiencing human-rights violations of “crisis proportions,” naming your fashion line after a slur against Native women is bringing the racism of the fashion industry to a new and violent level.

Dean and Dan Caten need to apologize for this (and they need to do more than that. They should donate 100% of their profits—because we know there will be profits—from the FW15 line to the Native Women’s Association of Canada). The entire fashion industry—which always seems to think that is above morality and has some sort of artistic pass to break the rules—needs to stop getting away with racist misappropriations of other cultures.

Shelagh Hartford is a Toronto-based writer and marketer, as well as the founder of Elle Beaver, a space for Canadian feminists to discuss the issues that matter to them the most.

This piece originally appeared at Elle Beaver. Reprinted with permission.

Images via Getty.

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