The Spring 2013 Adidas x Jeremy Scott collection features designs based on totem poles of Pacific Northwest Native American groups.

These motifs have traditionally been used in carvings to tell stories, memorialize kin, and remember lost loved ones.

Scott is using them as decorative motifs, which some critics disagree with.

Here, a dress from the collection.

Some argue that the garments sexualize an artisan tradition.

Other pieces from the Spring 2013 collection include this safari-themed jersey number.

And a fairly awesome cut-out jacket.

The PJs are pretty killer, too.

Scott also found inspiration in British skinhead and punk culture from the 1980s.

Co.Design

Offensive? Jeremy Scott And Adidas Debut "Native American" Tracksuits

The Kansas-born designer is back with a new collection of Adidas collaboration threads, including several that reappropriate Native American iconography.

Controversy is Jeremy Scott’s thing; you may remember Co.Design’s coverage of his Adidas shackle sneakers, which braced wearer’s ankles with chains. "In retrospect," wrote Mark Wilson, "they weren’t such a fantastic idea." Last month, Scott unveiled his 2013 Adidas Originals collection, and while it’s not all easy punchlines about race and ethnicity, many critics are up in arms about several garments that borrow from Pacific Northwest Native American traditions.

Scott’s thing is parroting genres and subgenres—which usually results in some pretty awesome hybrid garments. Take a peek at the lookbook and see how many distinct cultural sects you can count. I got to five, at least. Scott gives nods to late '70s British skinheads, '80s urban streetwear, and '90s raver culture, to name just a few.

The 2013 collection stumbles into some problematic territory when it comes to a series of tracksuits, shoes, and dresses decorated with cartoon renderings of Pacific Northwest Native American carvings—what some bloggers are calling "totem pole print." Totems originated as a way for some First Nation groups along the Pacific coast to honor their ancestors, describe legends, and sometimes, memorialize the dead. Scott’s simplified the symbology and tacked them onto dresses, tracksuits, and sneakers.

Curious what those in the Native community would think, I reached out to Jessica Metcalfe, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa who is a professor of Native American art, fashion, and design. As it turns out, she’d already seen the designs and written a post about them. "Misappropriations like this one are bad, unethical, and in some cases illegal," she told me. "Bizarre, garish, unpleasant and disgusting were several terms used to describe this outfit by people in the Native American community. Several individuals noticed that his inspiration was unoriginal, and that his take on Northwest Coast formline was ignorant, disrespectful and badly construed (in other words, Scott needs to work on his ovoids and u-forms)."

More than that, Metcalfe explains, they devalue the meaning and quality of the original source material. "When companies like Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, or Adidas put out tacky images like this, they perpetuate the idea that Native American people have no sense of ownership or artistic legacy when it comes to our art, and anyone can steal it, tack their name on it, and make a buck—all the while putting forward the idea that our art is ugly and cheap," she says.

After mulling over these images for a bit, I wondered if there’s a "right" way to do this. Metcalfe thinks so—after all, she’s built a business mindfully promoting Native designers through her blog and online shop, Beyond Buckskin. For the prolific and often very funny Scott, it seems like a missed opportunity: Why not make this a joint effort with the First Nation artists? I’m willing to bet that the fruits of that collaboration would’ve been super interesting. Instead, we get a cartoon version of a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Even divorced from its historical underpinnings, it’s just sort of. . .lazy.

Whether you agree with critics or not, it seems that Adidas wants to keep these from American eyes—these pieces won’t be available in the United States. Check out the full collection and judge for yourself here.

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20 Comments

  • Boone Sommerfeld

    Gotta agree with Mainlander here, but personally, I believe all political correctness is academic masturbation.

    Whether art/fashion is offensive or not is a pointless argument. Progressive art is often offensive. Where would art be if there hadn't been artists who weren't afraid to toe the line on taste, intellectual property, ethics and more?

    Art is supposed to evoke a response from the viewer and it isn't always the artist's intent to give you the warm fuzzies in your tum tum. Who is to say Scott's objective wasn't to offend Native and spark a debate and uproar? If that were the case, he has succeeded. (I doubt that was his aim...perhaps controversy for the sake of viral advertising, in which case, every complaint fuels his success, so if you want to shut him down, pipe down.)

    Another tidbit I find interesting is that on Jessica Metcalfe's site, Beyond Buckskin, the image promoted for the "Beyond Bucksin Lookbook" is a guy wearing a t-shirt that riffs on a Western King of Spades playing card—a native in profile, holding a hatchet and a revolver. So it's alright for their artwork to be derivative but not the other way around? Can I complain that the Native artist did it all wrong and that they didn't pay close attention to the fact that the King of Spades is not in profile, the King of Diamonds is. I feel that is analogous to the argument of his poorly render "ovoids and u-forms."

    I think the only critique one should have is whether it's tacky or not. I vote yes, but in a good way. All other criticisms are invalid in the art world.

  • Offend yourselves

    People are offended by everything these days. If this is a "rip-off" then show me ONE PIECE of art that looks strikingly close to those. JUST ONE.

    Anything's offensive to those kind of people.

  • BeanWavves

    This post explains it and give an example of a piece of art it ripped off. Also google search "Haida Art". It's an entire art form. http://beyondbuckskin.blogspot...

    There's a whole history of colonization, oppression and general disregard for indigenous people in North America and straight up racism. 

    What exactly do you mean by "those kind of people"? Indigenous people? Who still live in North America, and probably don't want to be stereotyped as the "wild native"? Do you even know what a totem pole is?

  • silverjackson

    Borrowing means you will return the item... this is a shitty rip off.  Lazy and disrespectful to say the least.  

  • Leanne Fulton

    It's tacky. Commissioning a first nations' artist to do the artwork would have been the correct way to go about this - cultural appropriation like this perpetuates the wrongs of colonialism.

  • Mainlander

    Typical disingenuous white liberal response. "I'll be offended on behalf of this group". Please.

  • DUH

    If this is offensive so is Navajo print, which is basically on every piece of clothing now a days they look like pretty cool track suits to me, not that I would ever wear one. But I guess you've never heard of inspiration.. it's a little thing every artist, inventor or creative mind in general has used since the dawn of man. It's not offensive the least bit Native Americans have good style.

  • T Paulus

    Well as some people in the comments are displaying, now it's the INTENT of design that has to be pure and vetted and 100% signed-off on by anyone even tangentially connected to the source material. Otherwise it's "offensive". 

    Jesus, it's sadly ironic to see the thought-police out in force in the creative field where freedom, appropriation and borrowing are supposed to be sacrosanct. This isn't hateful, ignorant back-face, it's merely a poor reinterpretation of design motifs. 

    There's more reason to be offended by the suits being tacky/ugly/garish. 

  • w/e

    As a artist and creative, it would seem appropriate. However, simply being of authentic or justified origin does not prevent one from being offensive or in the wrong. The Navajo print is beyond misappropriated and saying "Native Americans have good style" doesn't honor the culture.

  • DUH

    To respond to "NOPE' Adidias and the Designer of this clothing line did not meaningfully disrespect Native American culture, they simply took inspiration from a style of art, its extremely common every designer out there does it. And they are "cool" track suits, this style of clothing is "in" now a days and no amount of complaining is going to stop it. http://jezebel.com/5849637/urb... this is an article someone else posted as a reply to my comment. Do you think Urban Outfitters cares, or do you think they want to sell clothes? Walk in to one of there stores today, this article was written in October of 2011 (way to find the most outdated article by the way), theres tons of Navajo print everywhere and there will continue to be until people stop buying it. It's a beautiful track suit, personally I wouldn't be caught dead in it, but the designer did a great job taking in inspiration, not stealing, and putting his own spin on what is today a very popular clothing trend.  

  • Nope

     So just because something is commonplace means it can't be offensive? Or just because you personally think they look cool? You can't take something from someone's culture, do it in a way that's disrespectful, and then demand that the group you stole from be flattered because it's "cool".

  • Buddy Milkshake

    How could this even be offensive? Is no one allowed to depict art inspired by Native Americans any more? Don't even speak about Native Americans! If I were to make some art that was inspired by old Chinese paintings would the Chinese community be offended by it? Gimme a break. This appears to be just someone looking for something to complain about. 

  • Mainlander

    "W/E
    8 hours ago
    Rick, please refrain from your comments as they lack critical thought and education. " Another disingenuous white liberal. "I disagree with you, but offer no rebuttal, other than to say that you are stupid".

  • w/e

    Rick, please refrain from your comments as they lack critical thought and education. 

  • Yep

     "If I were to make some art that was inspired by old Chinese paintings would the Chinese community be offended by it?"

    Probably, since you aren't concerned about doing it in a way that was respectful.