The London-based fashion line KTZ, designed by Marjan Pejoski, showed its Fall 2015 line at New York Fashion Week on Wednesday, and its appropriated "Native American" prints and caricatures were actually quite shocking—albeit in a boring, "we've been here so many times before" type of way.
In recent years, KTZ has amassed a cult following for their embroidered silhouettes and elaborate detailing (and $500 sweatshirts); fans have included musicians like 2 Chainz, Rihanna, and M.I.A. (Pejoski is most famous for being the man who designed Bjork's famous swan dress for the Oscars.) He's clearly a talented designer who has made some beautiful work—but the label has a history of taking inspiration from specific, indigenous cultures around the world and utilizing them for their own super pricey ends. Former lines have been "inspired" by the Berbers of North Africa, sadhu in India, and the Moroccan art of wedding blankets known as handira.
That is Parjoski's first runway in America feels even more pointed than ever, though: Native Americans have historically been caricatured, paraphrased, and outright stolen from, from land to culture, and KTZ's runway looks not that much different than, say, Johnny Depp's "Tonto" makeup. The stereotype of arrows stuck in the model's backpack and apparent use of actual human bones (not to mention those 1840s style military caps, the kind worn by militarized expansionists who, you know, perpetrated genocide on Native Americans) adds a foreboding level of violence to this gross display.
On Twitter, the writer and activist Lauren Chief Elk pointed out that one of the KTZ pieces is quite similar to a dress made by B.Yellowtail, a Northern Cheyenne/Crow fashion designer in Los Angeles who draws on her own culture for her garments. "This isn't inspiration," she wrote. "It's straight up appropriation and theft, of Indigenous people who are CURRENTLY using their own culture in design."
Across the internet, the fashion press fawned. At Style.com, Maya Singer wrote of it rather hurriedly that the collection was "glossing the traditional aesthetics of Native American tribes—a mishmash of them, really. It's not his intention to be accurate," before talking about his club aesthetic. Even Lynn Yaeger, a fashion writer of great intellect and whom I regard very highly, neglected to mention Parjoski's "Native American" theme in her US Vogue review, focusing instead on the warmth of the coats and the military braiding for what seemed like a deliberate omission.
Fashion Week in New York has gotten so staid—and its acolytes, so reluctant to piss anyone off, with rare exception—that it's almost astonishing what people are willing to accept in the name of art and, that word again, "inspiration." Of course Pejoski is great at craft and detailing, and his clothes are almost always objectively beautiful and Cool Club Kids like them (though I'd wager the Actually-Coolest Club Kids cannot afford them). But there's a line where someone's vision is just egregious at best and ill-intending at worst, and here we are.
The MADE Fashion Week blog interviewed Pejoski about the collection, and his Native American "inspiration":
Talk to me a little about the concepts behind this collection.
Well it was my first in the USA, so as a way of paying tribute to the country, to the land, and all the indigenous people, it was based on the Native Americans, after a lot of research obviously. With every collection I go through lots of troubles when I take different countries and places, and coming to America was something that I wanted to explore. I've always adored Native Americans and their culture since I was a kid and I always loved their flamboyancy and their furs and feathers and leathers, and it was just something that was almost very close to me to do.
What was on your mood board for this season? Native Americans I suppose?
Yes that, but I just wanted to bring in obviously a modern twist with a lot of English fetishes. But it was tricky as I wanted to bring that out in a kind of gentle fashion.
Apparently Pejoski didn't do enough research on his "tribute."
Images via Getty