Ralph Lauren apologizes after wife of Mexico’s President slaps cultural appropriation, ‘plagiarism’ on his designs

The wife of the Mexican president has called out an American fashion company for “plagiarism” of indigenous designs.

Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller posted a photo on Instagram calling out the American luxury fashion company Ralph Lauren for its alleged appropriation of traditional designs.

Pictured in the photo is a women’s Ralph Lauren cardigan that at the time of the post retailed at select department stores for $360.00. Gutiérrez has rejected the title of first lady of Mexico as it is a “role with no concrete functions or responsibilities” and is now honorary head of the Coordination Council of the Historical and Cultural Memory of Mexico.

Her caption read:

Hey Ralph: We realized that you really like Mexican designs, especially those that elaborate ancestral cultures that preserve the textile tradition. However, when you copy these designs you fall into plagiarism, and as you know, plagiarism is illegal and immoral. At least acknowledge it. And hopefully you repair the damage to the Indigenous communities who do that work out of love and not for millionaire profit. @ralphlauren (These designs are by Contla and Saltillo).
Contla and Saltillo refer to the people in the regions where these designs are typically made.

Ralph Lauren immediately responded by issuing a statement and apology. The luxury brand told Reuters that they were “surprised” the article of clothing was still being sold after issuing a directive months ago to remove it from its retailers.

“When our team discovered months ago that this was in our product pipeline, we issued a stern directive to remove the item from all channels,” Ralph Lauren said on its site. “We are conducting an urgent audit to determine how this item landed on a sales floor after that directive and ensure it is removed immediately. We are deeply sorry this happened and, as always, we are open to dialogue about how we can do better.”

Ralph Lauren has pledged that following their Summer 2023 line, all indigenous-inspired clothing will be produced under a model of “credit and collaboration.”

In 2018, Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador began a fervent campaign in efforts to reclaim artifacts and relics of the country’s pre-Columbian heritage, lodging complaints with American and European auction houses in order to retrieve their cherished antiques. Additionally, Ralph Lauren is not the only designer they have remonstrated against.  The Mexican government has sent similar complaints to France’s Louis Vuitton, and Spain’s Zara.

In July, the government requested for Shein, a Chinese fashion retailer, to explain its use of indigenous Mayan motifs in one of its products, causing the company to pull the item from its stores.

It’s increasingly difficult for fashion companies to delineate the line between appropriation and inspiration. If Ralph Lauren, a thoroughly American brand, is only allowed to produce garments of American lineage then they should say their goodbyes to their iconic cable knit sweater – a design that originated off the coast of Ireland.  Not to mention the future of the ‘poncho’.

Alejandra Frausto, the Secretary of Culture of the Government of Mexico, continued to pile on the U.S. fashion house, posting her criticisms on Twitter and telling her followers when and where they could buy these items from the artisans themselves.

So, the question of who can manufacture these items may be clear in the minds of indigenous peoples, and those who represent them.  But, the more difficult question that fashion lovers will have to face is: who can wear them?


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