Accessories Report. Hermes vs. Folk Artists.

July 15, 2008 • Accessories


Remember when Rachel Ray stirred up all that controversy by wearing a scarf reminiscent of a keffiyeh in that Dunkin’ Donuts ad? (To sum it up the overblown drama, we direct you to the excitable Michelle Malkin at Fox News… "The keffiyeh, for the
clueless, is the
traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous
Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment
of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos,
the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant and not-so-ignorant
fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons." …Yeah.)

Anyway, it seems another scarf is causing some controversy, based on a similar premise of designers or retailers disregarding a pattern’s cultural value. According to Jezebel, an Hermes design pilfers a pattern from the Bangladeshi traditional embroidery, nakshi kantha.

One of their readers reports, "I live in Bangladesh, where the nakshi kantha
is a well-known form of folk art embroidery. Through 20 years of hard
work, this art has been carefully revitalized in order to provide
livelihoods to thousands of otherwise destitute Bangladeshi village
women. The designs have been fully researched and documented by
scholars, and the products are sold through various NGO retail outlets. […] They are a source of deep pride
among Bangladeshis… and while surfing the web late last night, I
found myself on the Hermes website, looking at their scarves, when a particular design
gave me a start. Are Hermes’ ‘artists’ co-opting these indigenous
designs for their own profit? […] Retail price of an actual silk nakshi kantha at an NGO outlet: $5-$15. Retail price of Hermes scarf: $355."

Here’s the side-by-side, so you can judge:


Nakshi kantha on left, Hermes design on right.

Are designers simply using indigenous folk designs of different cultures as inspiration? Or is the use of these folk traditions truly shortchanging people of their cultural heritage? To be truthful, we like the authentic stuff anyway.

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