pole cat

lindseythornburg-totem-mini-0a lindseythornburg-totem-mini-1a


lindsey-thornburg-totem-maxi-3a lindsey-thornburg-totem-maxi-4a


When I was a kid growing up in the Washington, my rad hippie school spent months studying the many Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest. We made paint from charcoal, clam shells and mushed up salmon eggs (mmmmm haha) and learned about crafting diapers from cedar bark and moss. The whole thing culminated in a two week fieldtrip up the inside passage on the Alaska Ferry, during which time we toured many a sweat lodge, photographed many a totem pole, and bought endless tiny jars of salmonberry jam.

I feel like this dress by Lindsey Thornburg is another item that could easily enter into the endlessly frustrating "native appropriation" debate, and there's certainly a part of me that understands why. I do think it's interesting that, while the
Pendleton fabrics and feather headdresses of the Southwest and Plains Indians have long been part of the fashion-consciousness (for better or for worse), the PNW seems to have been largely left unexplored (Un-exploited? Un-tapped?)

That said,
I can't deny that I find it to be an absolutely gorgeous piece of clothing. Fortunately, the mini costs $400, so I wont have to wrestle my own mixed-up morals any further than gazing longingly at a computer screen requires. Plus, to be totally honest, seeing it on Erin Wasson hasn't really increased the appeal. Phew! Dodged that bullet...

(Images via Bona Drag)


anja louise said...

We studied all those things too in elementary school up in BC! It was interesting but I guess a bit awkward in hindsight because my city had a reservation, and I think in the 80's all the native kids were still attending school out there. I think Lindsey's clothes are absolutely beautiful and it reminds me of lots of things that I saw when I was a kid, or in local museums and stuff. The cultural appropriation thing totally is endlessly frustrating... isn't this just a teeny tiny bit my culture too? If it isn't, then I guess I don't have any at all. I'm a pretty visual person and I can't help but be drawn to this imagery, both through aesthetic reasons and personal memories. I love the Northwest, what can I say.

julia aka garconniere said...

interesting post! i don't think this is a simple one re: cultural appropriation. part of me thinks "ooo pretty," and it seems like an interesting link between art and fashion... totem poles are so filled with stories and really captivating cultural artifacts, so it's unsurprising that they might inspire a fashion designer.

i think it's totally different from the question of hipsters wearing headdresses, since headdresses are something that are normally worn, whereas this dress is an image of a totem pole (an object) transformed into a wearable garment. but, at the same time, both items are tied up with a lot of meaning... like you said, it's complicated. makes me want to know more about the designer and her intentions with this.

anyway, it's an interesting dress and i'm glad you raised the question of native appropriation.

Love_Again said...

julia already spoke my thoughts..

Ela said...

Thanks for all the nice comments on my blog! It's nice to know someone reads my ramblings. (And that's a pretty amazing dress, shame about the price!)

Catherine said...

I saw this dress too and thought it was pretty neat. I was actually thinking about this ongoing debate in the fashion community yesterday, and it's something I've always been torn on.

Firstly, it's impossible to draw a distinct line between appropriation and inspiration. In fact, I wonder if it's even necessary to attempt to do so. Cultures have appropriated art, fashion, and beliefs from each other since the beginning of civilization. It's definitely not something that's new.

It's also impossible to clearly distinguish between good and bad appropriation, IMO. Christian Dior has appropriated a lot of Japanese clothing items, and Prada appropriated turbans, etcetera. In terms of how people react to this borrowing, it's completely unpredictable. Sometimes they love it, sometimes they hate it - I can never tell what their standard of judgment is, though.

I think people generally look down on cultural appropriation because there is a lack of knowledge about items that are appropriated - and often the historical and cultural baggage associated with those pieces is discarded simply for the aesthetics. I think that's why people hate seeing hipsters in Native American headdresses.

Okay okay I'm writing a novel so I'll wrap it up quickly. In short, I think cultural appropriation is fine, but I think we should try harder to promote understanding and knowledge of the cultural context from which these pieces derive.

Anyway, great post, and it's a beautiful dress! :)

Jenny said...

hey! my blog was spotlighted for a website and I mentioned you as my inspiration for getting started - thought you might like to see the article :)


on another note: ive been reading up on cultural appropriation and found this blogger really informative http://alagarconniere.blogspot.com/2010/10/cultural-appropriation-update-still.html

i think that dress is beautiful and love that you are drawing attention to the politics and appreciating the design instead of just putting it up and appraising how trendy it is - not that i would expect anything less from you! honestly, i will be happy when this "style" within fashion blows over!

Ringo, have a banana! said...

Oh man, thank for all the excellent, in-depth comments you guys! I'm all too used to seeing discourses on this sort of subject turn reactionary and closed-minded (but duh, of course, I expect much better from you dudes!!)

Anja: for me, this totally spoke to my ties to the NW as well. Obviously I'm not Native American, but it's hard for me to completely divorce my upbringing, and in turn my own culture (what little I may have), from the overall culture of the PNW--which definitely includes tribes like the Salish and the Makah to name only a couple. Should I really have to?

Julia: I totally agree re: hipsters in headdresses vs. this kind of thing. It really makes me want to know how Native Americans might view this particular version of appropriation. I know that a big part of the issue with headdresses is that they are a very sacred, important part of ritual for many tribes, and they're not something you just wear around every day (despite what movies might tell us.) They are to be treated with utmost respect, and to see them worn in an inappropriate or commercial context is upsetting to say the least. But I don't have such a thorough understanding of totem poles (despite my teachers' best efforts apparently, ha!)

Lucy said...

Love it!! Would totally wear that :) x

Anonymous said...

The frivolous and naive application of the totem imagery and the total disconnection from its original placement make me feel like this is totally un-offensive.

All the same, I'd really love to get the designer's take on this.