Pharrell on Elle UK. Why the controversy?

Do you think Pharrell should not have worn a Native American head-dress on cover of Elle UK? We don’t.

Although this sparked understandable and respectable outrage from communities and commentators alike, resulting in a sincere apology by the cultural icon, we believe this new controversy shows society has figured fashion out all wrong.


As a matter of fact, the base of controversy seems far-fetched to us, or at least most of commentators express it with little concision: most of the tweets bear judgments such as “it’s not ok”, ‘what’s wrong with you” and “this is scandalous”, only a few mention the reasons of anger:

“Urgh. Why does the fashion industry insist on turning sacred cultural items into fashion props? #NOTHappy @ELLEUK” – says @OnceAPARNATime.

Cultural appropriation seems to be the problem, as highlighted Refinery29. But the real question is where is the line to draw for offensiveness?

We believe blackfaceing a model is a mistake, but criticizing a graphic and photographic fashion job made with respect (at least benefit of that doubt can be given to the team in charge, right?) seems way over-crying. Why did fashion teams like this one chose this item? Because it bears positive symbols, it also has impeccable visual style and it may remind us that some cultures should not be lost in contemporary moments.

This cover is beautiful. It has character. It does not depict a community in any negative way. Let’s stop underestimating the fashion industry’s capacity to curate cultures. Fashion is not a superficial discipline, whatever twitter might say.

  1. It’s not about whether it looks good or not, or whether it is meant to celebrate the culture or not. It’s about the fact that he hasn’t earned the right to wear that headdress. “Native American headdress” is in itself an offensive term. Each tribe is it’s own nation of people with distinct cultural practices, language, and history. Please do not lump various cultures into one homogenous term. Back to the headdress, wearing one in this manner is offensive because it is sacred and completely disregards the cultural practices that allows one to wear it. Headdresses of this nature are earned, feather by feather, through acts of bravery. Each eagle feather tells a story, and is awarded to the wearer to show courage and honour. These headdresses are worn by chiefs and warriors and not anyone in the tribe can just start wearing one. I repeat, they must be EARNED. Therefore, to see it become a fashion statement, worn by people who have not only not earned their feathers and the right to wear a headdress but not even know the significance of what putting one of these on means, is disrespectful. I’m sure it is not intended as disrespect, but saying “well we are trying to celebrate your culture not mock it so its okay” is not for you to decide. Someone in blackface is offensive because it makes a cartoon out of a race of people and undermines their history of oppression. In the same way, someone cultural appropriating a headdress is offensive because it simplifies and promotes stereotypes of Cree, Navajo, Mohawk, Lakota, and the many other tribes you unceremoniously lumped into the “Native American” category. To you this may look like a positive symbol meant to honour and curate culture; however, to many it is a reminder of the one dimensional way in which “Native American” culture is consistently portrayed and viewed.

    1. Hello, thank you for an educated comment.
      That raises very interesting questions and we are happy to address them as you bring them up.

      We would be interested to learn then how the shooting team got hold of a headdress. It would be a shame that it was purely “counterfeit” indeed.

      Besides, we think it’s way more interesting and respectable that someone like you tells the audience about this “earning”/”deserving” process. We do admit that we did not have knowledge of that, as fashion/society blogger but are willing to learn and spread around!

      Thank you for your comment again, it encourages us in digging further into these cultures (mind the plural now).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.