Paul Frank, designer of the ubiquitous monkey-printed tees we used to buy at Delia's, has offended many after hosting a Native American culture-themed party complete with tomahawks, feathered headdresses and drinks like the "Rain Dance Refresher."
Frank, whose eponymous brand is known by its monkey mascot Julius (yup, the monkey's got a name), hosted the Native American-themed "Dream Catchin" party in West Hollywood on Sept. 6 to celebrate Fashion's Night Out, Indian Country Today Media Network originally reported.
The invitation described the party as "a pow wow celebrating Fashion's Night Out" and pretty much delivered on the theme: "Glow-in-the-dark war-painted employees in feather headbands and bow and arrows invited guests to be photographed on a mini-runway holding prop tomahawks," describes The Hollywood Reporter.
Drinks like the “Rain Dance Refresher,” the “Dream Catcher” and the “Neon Teepee" were served, ICTMN reported.
Paul uploaded over 1,000 images from the "Dream Catchin" fete onto his official Facebook page, according to blogger Jessica Metcalfe of Beyond Buckskin who first reported on the questionably racist nature of the event. Although the photos were removed, a collection can be viewed on Zimbio.com.
She demanded an apology. "Since you are profiting off of a caricature of our cultures, a donation to a Native American youth arts program would be fitting to accompany your apology," Metcalfe wrote on her blog. "Furthermore, if you are genuinely interested in Native American design, I suggest you collaborate with Native American designers in the future."
She also noted that Frank's insensitive mocking of the Native American culture did not just occur at the party but also in a line of "Dream Catcher" T-shirts created by the designer.
Others followed suit in condemning Frank's actions. "For those not familiar with this issue, 'playing Indian' is racist," writes xoJane's s.e. Smith:
"Redface, as it's known, involves selectively adopting a hodgepodge of items associated with a culture that is not yours, without an acknowledgment of the social and historical context. Whether people are doing it as a fashion statement, a sign of 'respect,' or for 'spiritual reasons,' it’s offensive; and it’s doubly so coming from white people in the US, who directly contributed to the historic oppression of indigenous populations and continue to be complicit in the systems that affect Native communities."
Smith goes on to reference how "structural racism" continues to affect the Native American community, resulting in higher raters of poverty, rape, assault and serious health conditions than in the white community.
After these responses as well as criticism from the Facebook community, Paul Frank posted an apology on his Facebook page on Sunday:
Paul Frank celebrates diversity and is inspired by many rich cultures from around the world. The theme of our Fashion's Night Out event was in no way meant to disrespect the Native American culture, however due to some comments we have received we are removing all photos from the event and would like to formally and sincerely apologize. Thank you everyone for your feedback and support.
He also tweeted:
While this may be Paul Frank's first (er, second) run-in with controversy, plenty of other designers and retailers have come under fire for similar missteps. In July, Ecko was criticized for its "Weekend Warrior" line featuring clothing with screen-prints of a skull wearing a feathered headdress (and for putting one of its models in one, too). Then there was Urban Outfitters' famous Navajo gaffe, which resulted in a lawsuit.
Some Facebook users are now calling for a boycott of Paul Frank products, according to the O.C. Register. Will you stop buying the monkey tees after Paul Frank's tasteless FNO party?
UPDATE: Paul Frank says in a statement to The Huffington Post: "I left Paul Frank Industries in 2005 to start my own company called Park La Fun. Since then, I have had no ties to my former company. I am saddened and disappointed by the recent news involving the Paul Frank Industries brand and how the new owners are using my creation, Julius the Monkey. My goal in life has always been to make art that will make people happy and that is still my goal with my new Company, Park La Fun. lt has always been my hope and desire that my former Company would use the characters I left behind for that same purpose. Unfortunately, though, that is not something I can control."
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