Several Indian social media users as well as Sikh commentators and organizations came down heavily on fashion brand Gucci for featuring a host of models wearing turbans in its show during the Milan Fashion Week on Feb. 21. They took to the social media over the weekend to express outrage at the “appropriation” of the religious headgear.
The models, who wore the turban at Gucci’s show for designer Alessandro Michele’s collection, were European. The turban, mainly worn by Sikh men to cover the knot of uncut hair they sport as an article of faith, has often elicited discriminatory response against them in western public spaces.
The outcry against Gucci on social media included comments such as:
— Avan Jogia (@AvanJogia) February 22, 2018
sikh boys come home crying to their parents after being bullied at school saying they want to cut their hair + take their turban off. OH BUT NOW IT’S FARSHUN DARLING @gucci
— Sohan Judge (@SohanJudge) February 22, 2018
— ਮੇਹਤਾਬ ਸਿੰਘ (@MehtabhSingh_) February 22, 2018
In @gucci ’s #pluriverse , we control our own identities. However, certain signifiers of identity are better left untouched. While various turban styles have been re-interpreted in fashion since the late 18th century, the four Dastaar that popped up on Gucci’s FW18 runway (on non-Sikh, mostly white models) was one that should have been left on the mood board. There are many ways this disaster could have been averted: • 1: Hire Sikh models. Italy is home to the second largest population in Europe. It would have been a beautiful statement to see Sikhs proudly representing their religion on one of fashion’s most major runways. • 2: Do a fashion turban instead – Marc and Miuccia have shown gorgeous interpretations of 40’s/70’s glamour that don’t read as sacred religious headwear. • 3: Just don’t do it. While we’re not against looking to other cultures for inspiration, please remember the threat, assault, and persecution that these people face worldwide and the right they have to have to practice their beliefs in public. #sikh #dastaar #gucci #pluriverse #cyborg #turban #religion #culturalappropriation
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The New York-based Sikh Coalition civil rights group tweeted on Feb. 23: “The Sikh turban is a sacred article of faith, @gucci, not a mere fashion accessory. #appropriation. We are available for further education and consultation if you are looking for observant Sikh models.”
Indian restaurateur Harjinder Singh Kukreja tweeted:
Dear @gucci, the Sikh Turban is not a hot new accessory for white models but an article of faith for practising Sikhs. Your models have used Turbans as ‘hats’ whereas practising Sikhs tie them neatly fold-by-fold. Using fake Sikhs/Turbans is worse than selling fake Gucci products pic.twitter.com/gCzKPd9LGd
— Harjinder Singh Kukreja (@SinghLions) February 22, 2018
Several social media users pointed out that Sikhs are often discriminated and racially profiled because of the turban. Post 9/11, there were a lot of attacks that members of the Sikh diaspora were subjected to in the United States when they were mistaken for Muslims.
In response to Gucci’s fashion show, Tina Daheley, a British broadcaster born in a Sikh family, recalled an incident that happened last week to an Indian Sikh man in the United Kingdom, the Al Jazeera reported. The victim, who had been waiting outside the UK parliament in London to meet politician Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, was attacked by a man who tried to rip off his headpiece. The attacker shouted, “Muslim go back home.”
“While Gucci sends white models down the catwalk wearing turbans, a Sikh environmentalist has his turban ripped off outside parliament in a hate attack. As someone whose family has been on the receiving end of this sh** for decades, this is utterly depressing,” said Daheley.
@Gucci I smile because I have been blessed with the opportunity of wearing a beautiful turban. what differs us for modelling for you? Treating something dear to us as a fashion trend? Gucci is a huge company & I respect what they do but this was disrespectful.#gucci #turban #Sikh pic.twitter.com/DU23vURbTa
— kingkang (@kingkang3211) February 24, 2018
This is unacceptable and offensive @gucci. Wearing another religions article of faith is not fashion, its appropriation! Sikh men are profiled and discriminated against every day for wearing a turban, yet when you put in on a white person, it’s suddenly fashionable and cool?!?! pic.twitter.com/UD0wWjaju5
— Gurpy Colors o(:) (@gurpycolors) February 22, 2018
International brands have frequently come under fire for cultural appropriation. Earlier in February, Zara was mocked for selling a checkered skirt that resembled a lungi, a garment worn by men in India. March Jacob was roundly criticized for featuring white models with dreadlocks.
An opinion piece written by Anu Lingala for Business of Fashion, who believes “binary, divisive reactions” get no one anywhere, argues: “The reality is that we live in a global society, one in which cultural exchange is inevitable and such exchanges are fraught with complications. When those in power borrow ideas from historically marginalized cultures without giving any credit to those who they are referencing, they are endangering the original cultural relevance of that idea.”