They said/We said: Rodarte is under fire for using sacred Aboriginal prints in their Fall collection

Photography by Peter Stigter

It seems like whenever the Mulleavy sisters seek inspiration from other countries, a little bit of controversy is sure to follow. Two years ago there was backlash against the name of a nail polish from Rodarte’s Mexico-inspired collaboration with M.A.C Cosmetics, and this week the brand is under fire for using sacred Aboriginal prints.

Megan Davis, member of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and an Aboriginal law professor, says the use of the prints in Rodarte’s Australian outback–inspired fall collection is “completely insensitive to Aboriginal art and spirituality and land and how they are inextricably linked.”

It’s an issue that’s becoming increasingly common amongst designers and retailers alike. Remember Urban Outfitters’ legal woes surrounding their Navajo Hipster Panty?

Quick to defend their designs, Rodarte released a statement that says: “We deeply respect and admire the work of other artists. Through the appropriate channels, we licensed the Aboriginal artwork that influenced prints in our collection. As a result, the artists will share in proceeds of the pieces inspired by their work.”

Hmm, we’re not sure if paying off the artists makes up for using prints that are deemed sacred and spiritual to Aboriginals, especially considering the predicament of Aboriginal people in Australia. At the same time, we wonder why other collections featuring native and tribal print-inspired designs, such as Jean Paul Gaultier, and Proenza Schouler (who used Aztec prints in Fall 2011) haven’t been in hot water.


Fashionista: “No doubt about it, we’re living in increasingly culturally sensitive times. Designers must be cautious with their inspiration, and it’s important that when art from living cultures is being appropriated that those people are brought in, collaborated with, and compensated, as Rodarte did in this case.” [Fashionista]

Jezebel: “A simple mention in the show notes might have avoided this whole thing — and led to fewer cringe-inducing fashion reviews erroneously crediting generic “Outback influences.” [Jezebel]


Rani Sheen, health and copy editor: “The more attention that is called to potentially problematic fashion references to culturally important patterns and fabrics from around the world, the more designers will have to stop and consider the implications of using them. The difference is looking at prints or designs and considering not just their aesthetic appeal—Navajo patterns are pretty!— but the cultural or spiritual significance they hold for the peoples who created them.”