Chanel made a boomerang, and surprisingly people are not into it
If you thought Balenciaga’s expensive appropriation of an IKEA bag was bad, Chanel has gone and knocked off Australia’s Indigenous culture.
The Parisian fashion house now has a “wood and resin” boomerang priced at a hefty A$1,930 (US$1,432) for sale on its website.
The weapon is part of the label’s Spring-Summer 2017 Pre-Collection, which also features similarly big-ticket items such as tennis balls, a racquet, a table tennis set and a surfboard.
The market for boomerangs, an invention credited to the earliest Indigenous Australians, has long been inundated with cheaper fakes, particularly from Asia. These rip offs, both from Asia and design houses like Chanel, undercut local creators.
In recent years, there’s been an increased push to stem the tide of imitations through efforts like the Indigenous Art Code and its “Fake Art Harms Culture” campaign.
Indigenous Art Code’s CEO Gabrielle Sullivan said it’s another case of cultural appropriation, and it’s “disappointing” given Chanel invest so much in protecting their brand.
“Maybe they feel like they can get away with it because they’re a big international company, and they’re somehow above it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s any different to shonky, dodgy, fake boomerangs that you buy at an airport that are made in Indonesia. They might only cost $25, but effectively it’s the same thing for people who’ve got a lot more money to spend.”
Dr Matthew Rimmer, a professor in Intellectual Property Law at Queensland University of Technology, believes more stringent protections for Indigenous intellectual property could help prevent this form of cultural appropriation taking place.
“I think the really sad thing about this story is that it is a very long-standing problem in terms of cultural appropriation in Australia and disrespect for Indigenous intellectual property,” he said.
“Given that the problem seems to be recurring, maybe there is a need for some stronger measures in terms of Australia’s laws to provide better protections for Indigenous intellectual property and traditional knowledge.”
Given the numerous controversies around fashion’s appropriation of Indigenous culture, it’s worth thinking about how such a product would reflect on Chanel from a brand management perspective. Is it even worth the trouble?
“There are a couple of larger questions regarding a brand’s reputation as well. You know, particularly in fashion there has been a lot of controversies in the past in terms of ransacking Indigenous culture for inspiration and that’s been a prominent issue as of late,” Rimmer said.
“So I think in terms of the company, they should also think about [how] having such a product will reflect back on their own reputation. Thinking from a brand management perspective, they should think really carefully about taking action to protect their good name and reputation.”
On Tuesday, Chanel released a statement saying it regretted causing offense but did not apologize or confirm if it was pulling the product. “Chanel is extremely committed to respecting all cultures, and regrets that some may have felt offended,” a company spokesperson told Fairfax Media.
Despite complaints that Chanel’s boomerang is culturally insensitive to Indigenous Australians, there are already owners like makeup artist Jeffree Star, who flaunted his own on Twitter.
Chanel has been approached for comment.