Top designer Carolina Herrera – who once dressed a string of US first ladies including Michelle Obama and Laura Bush – has been accused of stealing ideas from Mexican culture by government officials.
The latest line named Resort 2020 was apparently inspired by the “joy of life” in Latina America but the Mexican Government have now reportedly written to Carolina Herrera, 80, and the Creative Director of her company Wes Gordon, 32, complaining about the line.
Herrera clothing has been worn by US First Ladies including Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, according to reports.
The Secretary of Culture of Mexico, Alejandra Frausto, reportedly wrote to Herrera and Gordon, who has been at the company for a year, saying that elements of the designs contained elements which are the identities of indigenous communities in Mexico.
The Mexican Government has asked Herrera to “publicly” explain the basis of the designs which use “cultural elements” that they are “totally based on”. They also requested that the designer should clarify the communities using these kinds of designs will receive any kind of benefit from the sales of the collection.
One of the designs id a long white dress featuring colourful animal embroidery with flowers and minister Frausto reportedly said: “The embroidery comes from the community of Tenango de Doria, in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo. Those embroideries are in the history of the community and each element has a personal, family and communitary meaning.”
Frausto said that flower embroidery over a dark fabric seen in the designs are similar to those done in the region of Tehuantepec, in Oaxaca and the line includes the used of the sarape (a colourful shawl) from Saltillo, in Coahuila.
The minister reportedly wrote: “In the history of the sarape we find the itinerary of the people of Tlaxcala in the foundation of the northern part of the country.”
She added: “It is a principle of ethical consideration that forces us to draw attention to it and make the invisible visible.”
Some netizens complained that the designs are a kind of “plagiarism” of the designs used by local communities, with ‘aylinnmel’ writing: “How long until we understand that the inspiration of these big brands is plagiarism? It is important to legislate for the protection of cultural heritage like collective rights, so that more than just the economic benefits the work of the indigenous people for dignity and justice is recognised.”
Local media reported that it is not the first time that Mexico has highlighted the use of indigenous designs in fashion collections. In 2015, a shirt and a tunic by French designer Isabel Marant caused a wave of criticism online as the designs were allegedly similar to those used by “mixes” women of the people of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, in Oaxaca.
Spanish brand Zara was also accused of plagiarism for the use of Mexican traditional designs. In 2018, one of their shirts used a similar design to the embroidery used by the women of Aguacatenango, in Chiapas.
The Government of Morena (the political party in power) is readying a legislative strategy for cases like that of Herrera, Marant and Zara. In November, the political party presented a project of a new law of “Protection of the Knowledge, Culture and Identity of Indigenous People and Afro Mexicans” which seeks to abolish laws over copyright to avoid designers using designs without the consent of the population.
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