Future-ish Case Study | Chanel’s Fashion Faux Pas: Cultural Appropriation in Fashion

Future-ish Case Study | 24-03

Author | Sean G. Schmidt

Publication Information | Future-ish, 2024. Published in Schmidt, S. G. (2024). Future-ish: case studies and context for exploring the science, design, and culture shaping the future (2nd ed.). Innovative Ink Publishing.


Cultural appropriation in the arts, particularly in the fashion industry, is a centuries-old problem. Colonialism created power-dynamic situations in which colonizers endeavored to eliminate some aspects of existing Indigenous cultures while co-opting, using, and misusing other elements of the existing Indigenous culture for their own, usually financial, benefit. This practice was extremely harmful mentally, spiritually, and culturally in the past and remains harmful today. Cultural appropriation was common and, for the most part, unchallenged up through the late 20th century. This dynamic changed in the early 21st century, and cultural appropriation began to be identified and questioned intensively. In 2013, Chanel, a French haute couture fashion brand, was one of the first fashion houses called out in a major way on multiple social media platforms for cultural appropriation, just as the era of bloggers and influencers began. Specifically, Chanel was criticized for using ‘Native-American-inspired’ headdresses in their 2013/2014 Metiers d'Art show in Dallas, Texas. The show received backlash from both fashion professionals and fashionistas worldwide and sparked a new chapter in identifying and addressing cultural appropriation in many industries.

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