On DSquared2’s Racist and Extraordinarily Offensive FW15 Line: “DSquaw”

DSquared's Racist Fashion Line

From the DSquared2 Facebook Page

DSquared2’s description (on their Facebook page) of their FW15 line reads:

“The enchantment of Canadian Indian tribes.

The confident attitude of the British aristocracy.

In a captivating play on contrasts: an ode to America’s native tribes meets the noble spirit of Old Europe. Magic and mysterious tribal influences meld with royal references in a bold, quite eccentric aesthetic, revealing luxurious materials and high-end, artisanal details.

A graphic pattern injects a folkloristic feel into a hooded fur intarsia coat. Gold thread details inspired by livery uniforms surface on pants, jackets and coats. Dresses with delicate drapes recall Victorian undergarments.
Geometric motifs with an indigenous flair give a twist to wool maxi ponchos and blanket skirts.

The dark color palette of regal English livery is juxtaposed with the warm tones of a Canadian earthy autumnal forest.

Dsquared2’s iconic Twin Peaks bag reveals an ethnic makeover. Tribal decorations pepper high heels with an edgy touch, while sandals are embellished with dazzling crystals. Maxi sparkling jewels add an extra dose of royalty to the look.”

Canadian design duo, identical twin brothers Dean and Dan Caten, aka DSquared2, showed their latest line at Milan Fashion Week on Monday. In what can only be described as a desperate plea for attention, instead of coming up with an original idea or concept, they decided to misappropriate Native designs and patterns, and name their line “Dsquaw” – yet another misappropriation of a Native word, as well as a derogatory term for Native women.

DSquared and DSquaw: Racist, Inappropriate Fashion Line

I’m honestly not even sure where to start.

There is no way, that in 2015, DSquared can claim that they were unaware of the ignorance and inappropriateness of using aboriginal designs and headdresses. They are aware. They know what they’re doing.

They know that they’re disrespectfully lumping all indigenous people together into one group, which even they can’t seem to decide whether to describe as “Canadian Indian” or “America’s native” tribes, and therefore robbing them of their uniqueness – and treating all Natives as ‘Other’ (not to mention, “Magic and mysterious”).

They know that items such as headdresses and blankets, as well as the patterns and designs used, have major cultural significance to the tribes in which they are used. To take what is an important part of a person’s culture and describe it as “an ethnic makeover” and “a folkloristic feel” is to deduce it to a gimmick – something the Caten brothers are known for. As designers, they should be especially aware of the connection cultures have to fabrics, colours and patterns. They should know that when you steal those design elements, you are stealing a part of a culture – you’re saying that you can use it on a bag, or a sweater, just like you’ve stolen everything else.

As Adrienne at Native Appropriations said in a recent piece on NYFW:

We designed these images. We have the knowledge and understanding of what they mean and how they can be appropriately used. We evolved and developed and maintained our cultures for thousands of years… Our designs and cultural markers are used to “enhance” white culture, while white cultural artifacts are protected and policed… There should be no representations of us, without us. You want to draw upon Indigenous cultures for your line? Involve Indigenous artists and designers. There is no alternative answer.”

It is theft. When we have already taken so much away from Indigenous people, to then steal and profit from their cultural property, is more than just a slap in the face: You’re telling them that you still feel like you are better. That your colonial power gives you the right.

As Canadians, they should be especially aware of Canada’s atrocious past – and present – relationship with the Aboriginal peoples whom we took advantage of, attempted to kill off or culturally wipe out, forcibly took children away from, sexually abused – and on, and on. (That would be that good old “confident attitude of the British aristocracy” they are also claiming to try to evoke.)

Dsquared DSquaw Racist

Described as “an ode to America’s native tribes
meets the noble spirit of Old Europe” – Because we all know that only
good things happen when these two groups meet.

The final straw, the point where it turns from ‘OK maybe they are just wildly misinformed about Indigenous cultures and the racist implications of stealing tribal designs?’ to ‘They’re completely trolling us now’ lies in the name (and coinciding hashtag) of the line: “DSquaw.” Yes, really.

As in, “squaw” – the derogatory term used by English-speakers to slur Native women. In fact, it’s not even an English word at all – it is an Algonquian word that means ‘the totality of being female.’ It’s a term that no one in 2015 should be using, let alone famous designers on an international stage. Except, of course – for those trying to reclaim the word.

Imagine how you’d feel if they called their line “DCunt” – and maybe you’ll begin to get some, tiny semblance of the outrage that should be happening right now.

At a time when Aboriginal women represent only 4.3% of Canada’s female population, but 16% of the female homicides and 11.3% of the cases of missing women, when the UN is calling Canada out, telling us that our First Nations peoples are experiencing human-rights violations of “crisis proportions,” naming your fashion line after a slur against Native women is bringing the racism of the fashion industry to a new and violent level.

Dean and Dan Caten need to apologize for this (and they need to do more than that. They should donate 100% of their profits – because we know there will be profits – from the FW15 line to the Native Women’s Association of Canada). The entire fashion industry – which always seems to think that is above morality and has some sort of artistic pass to break the rules – needs to stop getting away with racist misappropriations of other cultures.

Update: We are officially petitioning DSquared2! Click here to add your name to our petition which asks Dean & Dan Caten to send a message to the fashion industry by donating profits from their FW15 line to an organization that supports the rights of Native women in Canada!

You May Also Be Interested In…

Stolen Sisters: Honouring the Life of Loretta Saunders

Stephen Harper and the ‘Moral Panic’ Over the Niqab and Women’s Charter Rights

16 thoughts on “On DSquared2’s Racist and Extraordinarily Offensive FW15 Line: “DSquaw”

  1. Pingback: Feature: KTZ Appropriates Bethany Yellowtail, Navajo Yei at New York Fashion Week |


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  5. If this were a mistrel show of blond women in headdresses I would get your criticism, but I really do not see the clothing as offensive, especially with the use of Indigneous models, which to me looks respectful! I mean you do not even know who designed these, what if it was someone of indigenous heritage? I think that if you carry the idea that indigenous peoples styles need to be so protected as you are saying, this actually risks patronizing and orientalizing them. Indigneous style comes from historical change, appropriation, etc, like any other style (one has only to see Aymara women in Bolivia with the bowler hats to understand that indgenous peoples change and appropriate and incorporate). As long as you are not appropriating religious /sacred objects, why on earth would you NOT see indigenous peoples’ clothing styles as worthy of being in a Milan fashion show, or combined with Western tradiations? especially when treated in a respectful way as you have it here? yes the captions stink, but compare this stuff to the horrible vogue mistrel stuff and I think this looks like an invitation. Finally consider where you go with this kind of identity politics logic taken to the extreme: should white people not play rock and roll because the beat was stolen from colonized/enslaved cultures? Must everyone remain in their “culture” like some pure product? Just saying to be cautious because this kind of logic taken to the extreme as it is in this article, has more problems with the categorization of indigenous people as some sacred, ahistorical people than progress.

    • its offensive not the merely because of the appropriation of indigenous motifs (which, as you note, is more complicated than a lot people assume, but probably still best to leave alone), but, rather, because these motifs are being so glibly and deliberately blended with British Colonial motifs. The violent history between these two groups is such that to symbolically reduce their meeting to mere fashion is, at best, in extremely poor taste and, at worst, unbelievably offensive. It is akin to making a Civil War fashion show in which black women strut down the catwalk draped in a “captivating play of contrasts” of slave rags and confederate flags. I agree it might be slightly different if the designers were indigenous…but they’re not.

      Furthermore – as you correctly note, we shouldn’t be viewing indigenous culture/fashion as some sort of “pure” or ahistorical, static thing…but, by contextually grounding indigenous fashion in the colonial era and reducing indigenous culture it to the well-worn stereotype of exotic, untamed, savage (note the use of the words, “enchanting; magical; tribal; mysterious” to describe the indigenous influences), this fashion show is doing precisely that.

  6. what a load of racist garbage. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women has become a hashtag no one cares about, Natives are paying obscene prices for necessities and living in absolute poverty, nd instead of standing up for their human rights, white male designers are capitalising on the otherness of their traditions. Stealing their culture, slapping it on a white face and ignoring its origins and the struggles they face. How disresepctful and lazy. instead of coming up with their own designes, they steal them and then they add western imperialism into the mix, just to underscore the complete ownership they feel over indigenous Canadians. I am so disgusted. Don’t let them get away with this crap.


  8. I wish the Dsquaw collection much commercial success as the success of your suggestion, if adopted, is directly proportional to profits derived from sales of the goods you have called disrespectful to the beneficiaries of your proposed donation.

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  11. Pingback: Culture Wars: appropriation vs. inclusion, and why it matters | The Tête-à-Tête

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