Victoria's Secret is known for being racy, provocative, sometimes a tad absurd—and, yes, racist. The lingerie company, owned by The Limited and led by CEO Linda Heasley (pictured far left), made a multicultural misstep last week when model Karlie Kloss walked the runway of its annual made-for-TV fashion show wearing a leopard-print bikini, large turquoise jewelry and a full, feathered American Indian headdress.
"We have gone through the atrocities to survive and ensure our way of life continues," says Erny Zah, spokesperson for the Navajo Nation. "Any mockery, whether it's Halloween, Victoria's Secret—they are spitting on us. They are spitting on our culture, and it's upsetting."
Similarly, Gwen Stefani angered fans last month when she wore a Native American headdress in rock band No Doubt's "Looking Hot" music video, which No Doubt immediately pulled.
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Victoria's Secret publicly apologized in the days following the fashion show: "We are sorry that the Native American headdress replica used in our recent fashion show has upset individuals. We sincerely apologize as we absolutely had no intention to offend anyone," read a statement on Victoria's Secret's Facebook page.
The company added that it will exclude the outfit from the show's scheduled broadcast on Dec. 4 on CBS and from all marketing materials. Similar language appeared on the company's Twitter feed, @VictoriasSecret.
But will once-loyal Victoria's Secret customers accept the company's apology? At least Kloss' tweeted apology, which went out to her 118,000 followers, had a name attached to it.
Is Victoria's Secret Racist?
The company may have passed off its gaffe as unintentional, but Victoria's Secret's apology failed to address its history of controversial and race-themed fashion.
The Victoria's Secret "Go East" line caused an uproar in September by sexing up traditional Japanese garb in its Sexy Little Geisha teddy with "Eastern-inspired" flower prints and removable obi belt. The website claimed it was "your ticket to an exotic adventure." The outfit was worn by a white model. Sites like Racilicious condemned the brand for showcasing Asian women as submissive and übersexualized.
Zah says that the company is not racist. "There's mostly two ways of looking at this particular type of subject: One is to be offended, and the other is to take the higher road [and say] these people don't understand who we are, and that's fine," says Zah. "Some people just don't know."
"Native Americans aren't a mascot," Andie Flores, a 22-year-old Arizona State University design-studies major from Scottsdale, emailed AZCentral.com. Flores is not American Indian but found the lingerie offensive all the same. "[It's not] a costume. No minority group or oppressed people is or should be. We have to keep each other in check. We have to engage in these discussions and help each other reach transformative conclusions. We have to educate our thinking."
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