September 6th was Fashion’s Night Out, a big fashion shopping event in multiple cities around the world where shops stay open late, offer deals, and encourage customers to come out and show off their personal style.
Designer Paul Frank participated in the L.A. event. His boutique’s theme, Dream Catchin’, reflects the widespread appropriation of Native American cultures in fashion over the last few years.
Adrienne K. posted about Frank’s event at her blog, Native Appropriations. The flyer:
Visitors were encouraged to pose in front of a background of cartoonish headdresses on the Paul Frank monkey while holding the types of bows and arrows and tomahawks you’d find in a toy section:
The bar invited everyone to “pow wow and have a drink now!”, offering Rain Dance Refreshers, Dream Catchers, and Neon Teepees:
Jessica Metcalfe at Beyond Buckskin noted that Frank has also produced tees based on the theme, such as this one:
As Adrienne points out, it shows how taken-for-granted these appropriations of Native cultures and play-acting as Indians are. Someone involved with planning the event thought, “Hey, let’s do an Indian theme!”, and a full event was planned, and nowhere along the line did it occur to them that it might be a bad idea to invite people to play redface. It illustrates the widespread acceptance of caricaturing Native Americans in a way that would generally be acknowledged as unacceptable and offensive if it involved other racial groups instead.
For more on the treatment of Native culture as just another fashion trend, see our posts on social media and the fight over Urban Outfitters’ “Navajo” line, Halloween costumes, thinking about Pendleton, Adrienne K. discussing cultural appropriation, “western Indian lore” in a vintage Levi’s brochure, multiple examples of appropriation, and considering the meaning of the appropriation of Native American cultures in South Korea.
Thanks to Dolores R. for the tip!
UPDATE: I received the following letter today on behalf of Paul Frank (the person) about the event sponsored by Paul Frank (the brand):
UPDATE 2: The president of Paul Frank Industries, Elie Dekel, contacted Adrienne K. and Jessica Metcalfe, and apparently is taking very clear steps to address the problem, prevent future thoughtless appropriation of Native cultures, and perhaps even to partner with Native artists to come up with some respectful design collaborations. Read Adrienne’s account of her phone call with Dekel over at Native Appropriations.