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Gucci turban costing $790 sparks outrage among Sikhs

  • Fashion label Gucci is under fire for making a $790 turban that resembles a religious article.
  • Sikhs accuse the designer of appropriating the headwear — which has significant religious meaning — for profit.
  • Gucci was criticized earlier this year for marketing a sweater that incorporated blackface imagery.

While it's well known that fashion designers tend to push the envelope in the name of creative design — they often miss the mark and instead spark outrage. Case in point: World-renowned Italian fashion house Gucci is under fire — again. This time over a namesake turban resembling the traditional Sikh headwear that was modeled by a caucasian male at the luxury brand's Milan Fashion Week show last winter.

After the show, outrage ensued. One Twitter user asked Gucci why it couldn't have found a "brown model" to showcase the look. Another, who identified as Sikh, called the fashion statement "a huge sign of disrespect and disregard towards Sikhism."

But Gucci failed to respond in a way that was satisfactory to those it offended, and the controversy bubbled up again this week when social media users identified the "Indy Full Head Wrap" for sale on Nordstrom's website.

"I'm surprised that Gucci produced the turban for retail sale after the response to its appearance on the runway," said Susan Scafidi, founder of the Fashion Law Institute and author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law.

The extravagant accessory, described as a "gorgeously crafted turban" that's "ready to turn heads while keeping you in comfort as well as trademark style" was sold out at Nordstrom Thursday, but screenshots taken earlier show it retailed for $790. Traditional turbans, which can be purchased at South Asian fabric shops, online retailers and Sikh festivals typically cost about $20.

Critics of the edgy garment are up in arms over Gucci's alleged cultural insensitivity of late. The luxury designer in February pulled a wool balaclava sweater from its collection and apologized to the public after people said the design reminded them of "blackface." The $890 item featured an oversized neck with a cutout for the mouth outlined in red, imitating a pair of lips.

Gucci pulled a sweater that resembled blackface and released an apology after many people wrote to the company in outrage over the racist garment. Gucci

In March, Gucci was again criticized for mocking financial hardship by selling a pair of $870 distressed sneakers that one social media user said looked like something shoppers might find at a thrift store.

In Sikhism, wearing a turban "asserts a public commitment to maintaining the values and ethics of the tradition, including service, compassion, and honesty," according to the Sikh Coalition. "It seems inappropriate that a corporation would try and commodify and capitalize on a sacred article for millions of Sikhs," said Simran Jeet Fingh, senior fellow a the Sikh Coalition. "At the same time, though, I recognize that our community is facing much more urgent challenges that are matters of life and death like racist bullying, and to me those are more pressing problems."

More reactions to Gucci's latest misstep poured in over Twitter. One user highlighted the violence that turbans have incited against those who wear them for religious reasons.

"Did someone at @gucci even bother to figure out what a dastaar (turban) means to Sikhs? Did it cross your minds to consider the history behind our identity? My people are discriminated against, even killed, for wearing a turban," Aasees Kaur wrote Tuesday.

Fingh said the episode highlighted the need for more cultural diversity within the ranks of Gucci and other organizations. "If these companies actually had diverse communities represented within their corporate structures, there is no way that something as insensitive as this would pass through and make it to the market," he said. "So this is another example of why representation matters and why diversity matters, and that's a change that really needs to be made on an institutional level."

Twitter user Taran Parmar called attention to Gucci's previous faux-pas. "Seriously @Nordstrom @gucci ? The turban is one of the most important and symbolic articles of faith for Sikhs, and you're selling it as a fashion accessory to make money? This isn't the first time you've come under fire for cultural appropriation. Do better," she wrote.

Not all members of the faith were offended, however, and some even chastised those who spoke out against Gucci. "Turbans are not only a Sikh article faith they are a general clothing article we're stepping out of our range here," said Ricky Saini.

Indeed turbans — or versions of the headwear — have been worn in many different contexts throughout history, including by Hollywood actresses Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson. But what's offensive about Gucci's design, Fingh said, is that while "it seems very much modeled after a distinctly Sikh style," it's designed to be worn and removed like a cap, rather than wrapped like a turban and reveals a deep cultural insensitivity.

Scafidi said Gucci now has an opportunity to connect with the Sikh community "and provide a platform for sharing cultural knowledge about the meaning and history of their turbans, as well as the discrimination that members of the community face while wearing them."

"Copying a beautiful design without sharing or addressing the social burdens it may impose on those who traditionally wear it can indeed be characterized as cultural misappropriation -- but hopefully this time it will become a teachable moment," she said. 

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