Mexico vs. Carolina Herrera: designer accused of plagiarism by the Mexican government


The new Carolina Herrera 2020 cruise collection inspired by "a sunrise in Tulum, the light of Lima, a walk through the city of Mexico (...) or the colors of Cartagena" has generated discomfort in the Government of Mexico, which accuses to its designer, Wes Gordon, of cultural appropriation.

The Ministry of Culture asks the designer, Wes Gordon, an explanation for "the use of designs and embroidery of native peoples."
The Ministry of Culture asks the designer, Wes Gordon, an explanation for "the use of designs and embroidery of native peoples."

The secretary of Culture, Alejandra Frausto, requests in a letter addressed to Carolina Herrera and the creative director of the firm, Wes Gordon, "an explanation for the use of designs and embroideries of native peoples".

In that letter, Frausto vindicates "the cultural rights of the indigenous peoples" while requesting that "explain on what grounds they decided to make use of cultural elements whose origin is fully documented."

"Carolina Herrera's new 2020 cruise collection is inspired by a colorful and colorful Latin vacation, the dawn of Tulum, the waves in José Ignacio, the dancing in Buenos Aires or the colors of Cartagena", explains the press release of the signature, belonging to the Puig group, with which you have contacted without receiving any reaction to this claim.

The designs do not seem to convince the government of Mexico, which considers that Carolina Herrera's garments contain the worldview of Mexican indigenous peoples, more so when it is working on a bill that protects its art and creativity to avoid plagiarism.

One of the questioned models is a long white dress with bright embroidery of animals and flowers and Frausto points out in that letter that "this embroidery comes from the community of Tenango de Doria (Hidalgo), in these embroideries is the history of the community and each element has a personal, family and community meaning".

Others are dresses above the knee with colorful embroidered flowers like those made in the region of the isthmus of Tehuantepec, in Oaxaca.

And a third case, in which Wes Gordon has designed some dresses with the typical sarape of Saltillo (Coahuila) that the Indians use to make warm clothes such as ponchos, jorongos, coats or blankets.

"It is a principle of ethical consideration that forces us to call attention and put on the table of sustainable development of the UN an urgent issue: promote inclusion and make visible the invisible," the letter ends.

After 37 years in the world of fashion and 72 fashion shows, Venezuelan Carolina Herrera bid farewell two years ago to the creative direction of the firm she created in 1981 and took the reins, Wes Gordon, in charge of creating this latest collection Crucero 2020 that has generated annoyances to the Mexican government.

But Carolina Herrera's is not the only case that the Mexican government has considered plagiarism. Zara, Mango, Isabel Marant, Louis Vuitton, and Michael Kors, Santa Marguerite and Etoile have been some of the firms that have previously received a call from Mexico, which since last November is working on a law that safeguards indigenous culture.

Until now, it seemed usual for designers to be inspired by different cultures to create their creative universe. It is enough to remember the Moschino, Gaultier or Lacroix collections that they have created, for example, from the aesthetics of bullfighting. What once looked like inspiration today could be considered plagiarism.

By Agencies

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Museum of Popular Art supports Carolina Herrera

Representatives of the museum expressed that the Resort 2020 collection recognizes the beauty of traditional Mexican design.

The Association of Friends of the Museum of Popular Art (AAMAP), reference space in the preservation of traditional Mexican art, rejected through a statement the alleged plagiarism of Mexican designs made by the prestigious fashion house, Carolina Herrera; the previous thing after the accusations made by the Ministry of Culture.

In the document addressed to the owner of the agency, Alejandra Frausto Guerrero, AAMAP said that the inspiration for the Resort 2020 collection "recognizes the beauty of traditional Mexican design giving it the importance it deserves on a global scale through the prestige of its brand".

They highlighted that in 2015 Carolina Herrera worked with AAMAP in the design of a bag embroidered by artisans from the municipality of Tenango de Doria in Hidalgo, who were justly paid for their work and given the corresponding credit.

The organization made up of more than 50 businessmen, philanthropists and artists mentioned that the firm collaborates closely with the work of the Museum of Popular Art and its projects with artisans.

By Agencies

Mexican artisans outraged at the plagiarism of Carolina Herrera

Indigenous Mexican artisans have expressed outrage after the plagiarism of Carolina Herrera.

Surrounded by piles of red, blue and yellow embroidered blankets, Glafira Candelaria, a 59-year-old Mexican Indian woman who speaks Spanish with difficulty, is outraged when referring to the latest collection from fashion house Carolina Herrera, who used textile designs from her town.

"She is copying our work, what we are doing, but this is not valid," she says at home.

She lives in San Nicolás, an impoverished town in the municipality of Tenango de Doria, in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo, nestled in an area of ​​mountains inhabited mainly by Otomi Indians.

The creative director of Carolina Herrera, the American Wes Gordon, used the birds and roosters surrounded by trees and loose leaves that characterize the laborious technique of Tenango embroidery and the designs of two other Mexican communities in their latest collection, called Resort 2020.

The collection provoked the protest of the Mexican government, which asked Carolina Herrera - a New York fashion house founded in 1980 by the iconic Venezuelan designer of the same name - an explanation of what she considered an "appropriation" of the autochthonous iconography.

The collection "pays homage to the richness of Mexican culture" and recognizes "the wonderful and diverse craftwork" of the country, argued Gordon, who took the creative reins of the company a year ago from Herrera, who is 80 years old.

"People who come from outside just get rich with our work, with what we are doing because they sell it very expensive (...) Those people can also sue or ask for forgiveness," adds Glafira, whose face darkens the see the photographs of the dresses of the Resort 2020 collection, which sell for thousands of dollars.

The International Bill of Human Rights recognizes the intellectual property as part of the fundamental rights of man, and Mexico's federal copyright law establishes that all works considered popular or artisanal must be respected.

The law also mandates recognizing with a clear and direct mention to the indigenous community from which these works come, if used to create new products.

While "there is no appropriation of the designs", the case could merit "a trade offense for having omitted the mention of the ethnic community and who has to sue it is the Mexican government," the expert lawyer told AFP. in copyright, Dafne Méndez.

Glafira's mother, Josefina José Tavera, 87, lives in the back of her house, in a small room with its own entrance and dirt floor where the only electrical device is the spotlight hanging from the ceiling.

She is recognized in the town as the creator, together with her mother, of the Tenango textile technique and design.

The use of designs of indigenous communities on international catwalks is not new

Zara, Mango, Isabel Marant, and Rapsodia are other brands that have been designated to "appropriate" the designs of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.

"What they have to do is to come directly with us, firstly that the artisan be recognized so that other people know where it comes from, that they bring us to work," he says in his workshop, which is also his house, Oliver López, a young Otomi of 29 years, who like Carolina Herrera has also created minidresses with Tenango embroidery designs and other garments, but without the success of the New York fashion house.

Two other pieces from the Resort 2020 collection include embroideries from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which identify women from that region of southern Mexico, and two more models incorporate the "Sarape Saltillo", a kind of multicolored wool or cotton blanket, similar poncho, and used as a coat.


Does cultural appropriation exist or not when using elements of original peoples?

A letter sent by Mexico's Secretary of Culture, Alejandra Frausto, to designer and businesswoman Carolina Herrera, and her creative director Wes Gordon, on June 10, gave way to controversy. The reason? The incorporation of elements of the culture and identity of Mexican native peoples in the latest collection launched by the brand, entitled "Resort 2020".

The discomfort was evident. The document specified, piece by piece, the apparent cultural appropriation, along with demanding an explanation for this use.

An extract from the letter stated: "Such is the case of model 8 and 23, whose embroidery comes from the community of Tenango, Doria, Hidalgo; in these embroideries is the very history of the community (...) Models 11 and 13, for their part, incorporate embroideries from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which give identity to the women of the region. Finally, models 14 and 16 incorporate the 'Sarape saltillo'; in the history of this sarape we find the route of the town of Tlaxcala for the foundation of the north of the country".

Gordon's response to the accusation was the following: "The presence of Mexico is indisputable in this collection, is something that jumps to the eye and that at all times I wanted to leave latent as a token of my love for the country and for the incredible work I have seen done there. The fashion house, for its part, published in Instagram: "The collection was created from our admiration and respect for the rich culture of Mexico (...)".

What seemed to have remained in the past for the brand, was not for the Mexican government. The eyes settled more than ever on the Senate of the Republic, where a modification to the Federal Copyright Law is being processed since last April in search of protecting the artistic works of indigenous peoples, which due to this controversy could be promptly approved.

The proposal to introduce the law eliminates the provision that, for the time being, allows the free use of elements of popular culture without retribution.

And of course, this is not the first case where a fashion house takes Mexican designs and embroidery. One of the most controversial was that of French designer Isabel Marant, who was accused of plagiarism of the characteristic design of the red and black line blouse of the Mixed communities, in the context of a new collection. The issue was that the blouse was sold for 4,500 Mexican pesos (US$236), while the price of the garment in the indigenous community did not exceed 15% of that value.

The surprising thing about this case is that the designer was denounced for the design patent by another French company, Antik Batik, which claimed the violation of its intellectual property rights. What is enigmatic is that the designer did not face the lawsuit because she demonstrated that her production was based on designs by Oaxacan artisans.

In short, there is no record of any type of sanction for plagiarism, cultural appropriation or omission of a trademark.

Why brands are not sanctioned

According to Liliana Montesinos, an academic at the Faculty of Higher Aragon Studies of the UNAM, the terms plagiarism, and cultural appropriation are often confused. The government of Mexico in the voice of the senators and the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI) speaks of plagiarism, which has to do with copyright. And in other instances, the Fondo Nacional para el Fomento de las Artesanías (Fonart) and the Secretaria de Cultura refer to cultural appropriation, which is the use of elements and expressions of culture to which the meaning is changed or appropriated.

"Although they are different things, both are protected. On the one hand, there are the cultural rights that would have to do with the cosmovision of those elements. There is also intellectual property, which would be the case for the part of the designs because of plagiarism, but the problem to sanction is that the collective intellectual property is not protected in the specific law of the matter, which is the law of copyright and the law of industrial property, since they only do it in the individual," she says.

And are designs protected or can they be protected? Yes, they can be patented. "Yes, there are rights in international treaties, but the problem is that they are not recognized in collective intellectual property rights," says the academic.

So, as Montesinos mentioned, "what exists in Mexico is the Copyright Law, which infringes not to mention the community or ethnicity that is the author of the designs used. But even so, this doesn't happen.

By Josefina Martí