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Mexico accuses Carolina Herrera of cultural appropriation for her most recent collection | Style

The young designer Wes Gordon has been working as creative director of Carolina Herrera, the Venezuelan dressmaker who is an icon of the catwalks. Resort 2020 is the recent collection of the creative couple and is inspired by the "joie de vivre" of Latin America. Vogue he has described it as "young, fresh and true to the roots of the brand". To this can be added "controversy". Some seasonal dresses have generated discomfort in the Government of Mexico. The leftist executive of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has accused Herrera and Gordon of cultural appropriation by incorporating designs and identity elements of local indigenous peoples into their garments.

The Secretary (Minister) of Culture of the country, Alejandra Frausto, sent a letter of complaint to both designers on Monday. Frausto says that some of the patterns used in the collection are part of the worldview of people in specific regions of Mexico. The Government has asked Herrera to explain "publicly" the fundamentals that led the fashion house to use cultural elements whose "origin is fully grounded". In addition, she asks the dressmaker to clarify if the communities that carry these garments will benefit from the sales of the collection.

One of the garments, for example, is a long white dress that has brightly colored animal embroideries that intertwine with flowers and branches. "(The) embroidery comes from the community of Tenango de Doria (Hidalgo); in these embroideries is the history of the community itself and each element has a personal, family and community meaning ", says the minister in the document to which EL PAÍS has had access.

Two other cases cited in the Frausto protest refer to the use of floral embroidery on a dark cloth, such as those made in the region of the isthmus of Tehuantepec, in Oaxaca. And the incorporation, in two other dresses, of the famous sarape of Saltillo (Coahuila). "In the history of this sarape we find the route of the town of Tlaxcala for the foundation of the north of the country", explains the official of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) to the designer based in New York since 1980.

Another one of the dresses of the CH collection.
Another one of the dresses of the CH collection. carolinaherrera.com

Frausto believes that the garments that Mr. Gordon has devised for Casa Herrera can be inserted into a worldwide debate on the cultural rights of indigenous people. "This is a principle of ethical consideration that … forces us to call attention and put on the table an urgent issue …: promote inclusion and make visible to the invisible", says the letter, dated June 10 . This newspaper tried unsuccessfully to contact the office of Carolina Herrera in New York to know the reaction after the letter.

It is not the first time that Mexico is living a controversy over the use of designs of indigenous peoples in fashion collections. In 2015, a tunic and a blouse by the French Isabel Marant generated much criticism on social networks. The designs of the garments drank from those used by women Mixes from the town of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, in the mountain area of ​​Oaxaca.

Zara, of Inditex, has also been accused of plagiarism on several occasions for the use of Mexican artisanal designs. The most recent scandal in which the Spanish brand has been involved was also in 2018, when the press found that one of the jackets that it promoted showed a drawing similar to an embroidery worn by the women of Aguacatenango, in the municipality of Venustiano Carranza Chiapas This is not limited to the world of fashion. Nestlé has also used Mexican designs to sell chocolates.

Legal strategy to prevent plagiarism

The Government of Morena prepares a legislative strategy so that cases like those of Herrera, Marant and Zara are the last ones. The bench of the ruling party in the Senate presented last November the project for a Law for the Safeguarding of Knowledge, Culture and Identity of the indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples. The standard aims to repeal some existing copyright laws to prevent designers from using such illustrations without the consent of the people.

"It is a very great law that gives the ownership of these elements to the original cultures," Senator Susana Harp of Oaxaca, president of the Culture Commission and author of the regulation, told this newspaper, which will be worked on for two more months. together with other legal instruments. "The market must understand that it is not two balls up or two balls down. These designs are images of your worldview. The communities ask for respect, they do not ask for money. They want the designers to approach them and ask for permission ", adds the legislator. One of the sections of this law indicates that native peoples may sign, or not, agreements with designers who intend to use their designs.

Harp indicates that there are also good practice examples of work with local artisans. Among them Roche Bobois, a French high-end furniture store, which made a collection with Huichols. For each piece sold, the Indians get an income. The Mexican Carla Fernandez has also become a reference with its collections influenced by the textile wealth of the indigenous peoples. A wealth that Carolina Herrera will have to explain to the Mexican government.

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