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Charlotte Olympia’s Pocahontas Shoe Is a Little Questionable

Charlotte Olympia revealed another playful range of accessories for Spring 2015 today, for which the designer drew inspiration from the Wild West. There are high-heeled slingbacks flourished with cowboy spurs, a purse modeled after an old timey cowgirl magazine, even a pump with a heel molded to look like a howling coyote. All seemed pretty inoffensive and fun. So, we happily scrolled through a few images from the collection, and then we saw this. 

Alexandra Jacobs, fashion critic for The New York Times, spied this gem among Olympia’s latest; a T-strap pump adorned with a beaded rendering of a Native American woman. And it seems she had the sneaking suspicion that people would be a little unsettled by the shoe.

Yeah, it’s pretty suspect, alright. Native Americans (and Mexicans) were a huge part of the Wild West culture. Sure, there are caricatures of white people in Olympia’s collection, but the reason that this particular shoe doesn’t sit well is because fashion has a history of reducing the cultural iconography, bodies and basic humanity of people of color to accessories or “trends.” Something that can be worn and taken off. And in these cases, all too often the people of color are not acknowledged or completely erased from the conversation. PurseBlog’s Amanda Mull tweeted, “What is the thought process behind, ‘Minorities are adorable, let’s adorn an expensive shoe with a beaded cartoon of one.'”

We’re sure no one would give this a second thought if it was a beaded rendering of a blond lady in a cowboy hat. On the surface, without paying any consideration to historical or cultural context, is that fair? No. But you know what else isn’t fair? The fact that so few Native Americans are represented in the fashion industry. Not on runways, not in magazines, not in campaigns. Really, the only visibility is if Chanel decides to put a headdress on a white model for its fashion show or if someone wears a moccasin or a poncho. And that’s kind of wack. That’s what makes this so problematic. If your already-oppressed culture is reduced to a few accessories and a hmm-worthy caricature, of course you’re going to give the side-eye to something like this.

We’re not saying Charlotte Olympia should be tarred and feathered. She’s probably a nice lady and we love her footwear — we’re just saying that this shoe gave us pause. 

What do you think? Is this shoe offensive or completely harmless?