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DSquared2, Racism and The Big Business of Outrage

Here's the secret: They're doing it on purpose

Tim Querengesser is senior editor with Alberta Venture. Email Tim

Mar 6, 2015

by Tim Querengesser

Forget what you reflexively think about Canadian fashion brothers Dean and Dan Caten, usually known as DSquared2, who launched the gut wrenchingly offensive #DSquaw line of clothing this week in Milan.

What you think about #DSquaw is likely something similar to this: you’re angry, aghast, outraged, and you feel that these Canadian brothers are clearly incalculably dumb or perhaps raised exclusively on Walt Disney’s version of Native North America (cough, Pocahontas). But what you should think is that DSquared2, and so many others in recent months, are purposely offending you. And they’re doing it with calculated, disgusting precision, all in the name of quick publicity and, they believe, profit.

The reportage on the #DSquaw story followed the now predictable narrative, blazed by the reaction to Urban Outfitters, which infamously released vintage styled clothing with Kent State branding, complete with added blood splatter and then said “Sorry,” after making headlines for days.

The story we tell when these slurs are passed off as accidents goes like this: Here is something offensive that this company – usually a fashion label – did (for #DSquaw, the National Post described the line as “causing a stir”). Next, here is the outraged reaction that it’s creating (usually gathered from Twitter). Next, here’s an analysis piece or two, where a sage writer will ask something akin to, “How could they be so stupid?” And finally, here’s the company issuing an apology (which DSquared2 has yet to do), claiming that it really meant no harm or just didn’t get it. Ooops, sorry.

And then, after making global headlines, and feeling a lesson has surely been learned, we nonetheless wait for the next racist faux pas. Because it will surely come.

This narrative is flawed. The faux pas’ in the fashion world are in fact fully intentional. But how, you demand, can you accuse these fashionistas, who we naively presume are too busy reading Vogue and not books to know what racism is, of doing these awful things intentionally?

Fittingly for fashion, it all comes down to a pattern. Consider that the list of those that have appropriated and then apologized for using Native inspired symbols in their fashion lines is longer than a Paris catwalk: Victoria’s Secret, Chanel, Urban Outfitters, H&M, and, well, a whole lot more that deserve no more press. Or consider that if we just examine just Urban Outfitters’ track record on this sort of piss-off publicity, that it’s managed to evoke Nazis, the Holocaust, alcoholism and all sorts of other emotive buttons with its t-shirts, only to apologize later. And then go right back to doing it yet again.

What DSquared2 need to apologize for is not ignorance, or simple racism. Instead, the Caten brothers, Canadians remember, need to apologize for stoking racial hatreds in their country intentionally, in the interest of lining their pockets.

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