Remember when Paul Frank was widely criticized for hosting a "pow wow"-themed party in Los Angeles last September where it encouraged guests to put on "war paint," put feathers in their hair, and pose with tomahawks? Unusually, after a spate of examples of unapologetic appropriation by the likes of Forever 21, Victoria's Secret, and Urban Outfitters, Paul Frank took the step of offering a sincere public apology and removed all the offending party images.
Paul Frank's president even reached out to two of the Native American bloggers who had been most critical, Jessica Metcalfe of Beyond Buckskin and Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations, and began what seems to have been a pretty productive conversation about Native American art, identity, and appropriation. The company also approached Keene and Metcalfe about collaborating with some Native artists on a collection, with proceeds to go to a Native cause.
Now that collection is becoming a reality. Paul Frank has announced an accessories collaboration with artists from four Native American tribes, including sunglasses, bags, and t-shirts, which will hit stores this August. No price information or images of the collection are yet available. Metcalfe writes:
The four designers selected for this collaboration are ideal candidates. Louie Gong (Nooksack) has been in the Native pop art and design scene for years, most notably for his hand-painted Northwest Coast-infused Vans sneakers. Cree/Metis artist Candace Halcro's beaded sunglasses are topnotch with quality and color patterning. The Soft Museum is a collective of artists who hail from Santa Fe and have connections with the Institute of American Indian Arts — they create fun accessories from plastic hama beads and take the concept of adornment to new levels. Dustin Martin, a Navajo artist and Columbia University grad, brings a potent blend of crisp graphics and intelligence that infuse streetwear with intellect. Together they are creating a limited edition collection that fuses their own artistic styles with the Paul Frank brand and includes a tote bag by Gong, sunglasses by Halcro, jewelry by The Soft Museum, and a tee by Martin.
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Keene says that not only did she and Metcalfe volunteer their time as consultants on the collaboration, but so did the designers. "We...did this all for the experience and the awareness, no money was involved," she writes. That's...surprising, to put it mildly. Surely the artists should have gotten something for the use of their work? But as a precedent for apparel brands seeking to engage with Native American (or other minority groups) and their heritage respectfully, this has a lot of potential. "We are providing a model for appropriate ways to participate in 'culture'-based trends in the future," says Metcalfe.
Booth Moore of the Los Angeles Times initially reported positively on the collaboration in a post apparently based on a Paul Frank press release about the collection (which didn't mention the party or how the company came to see the light). After Beyond Buckskin drew attention to the other factors behind the collaboration, Moore griped in a follow-up article:
Although Paul Frank's collaboration with Native American artists will undoubtedly help bring the work of these talented young people to a wider audience, the company should have been forthcoming in press materials about the journey it took to get here. Because what is corporate responsibility without full disclosure?
Now, can we all just take a minute, breathe in deeply, and say "bullshit"? "But that wasn't in the press release!" is just not an excuse a journalist can give the public. Ever. And especially not when it pertains to events that took place less than a year ago, and which were widely reported in dozens of news outlets at the time, and which should be considered common knowledge to a reporter on the fashion beat — someone like, say, Los Angeles Times fashion critic Booth Moore. You know what the first thing they teach you in journalism school is? I don't know! I didn't go to journalism school; I was too busy getting my degree in Reading Thomas Hardy And Eating Cheetos Good. And yet even I know that the first rule of Actually Reporting On Shit is: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. Yes, Paul Frank should have been more open about the reasons for the collaboration, but that's no excuse for Moore's lack of research. Don't whine about what [controversial but easily discovered piece of information] wasn't in a fucking press release. Jesus. You're making us look bad.
Anyway! The collection sounds pretty neat.
Paul Frank x Native Designers [Beyond Buckskin]
The Paul Frank x Native Designers Collaboration is Here! [Native Appropriations]
Paul Frank Native American-Designed Collection An Apology For "Powwow" Party? [LATimes]