Dame Trelise under fire for headdress use

01:52, Aug 27 2014
CELEBRATORY WALK: Dame Trelise Cooper soaks in the adoration from a smiling, and very prominent, crowd post-show.
OTHER LOOKS: Native American war bonnets were not the only headgear displayed on the night.
'UTTERLY WRONG': Many prominent New Zealanders have spoken out on social media against Dame Cooper's use of Native American headgear, which she says is just a "fun thing" she saw while travelling in America and Ibiza.
'UTTERLY WRONG': Many prominent New Zealanders have spoken out on social media against Dame Cooper's use of Native American headgear, which she says is just a "fun thing" she saw while travelling in America and Ibiza.
FRONT ROW: Carol Hirschfeld, Lizzie Marvelly, Petra Bagust and Mayor Len Brown watch the show.

Fashion designer Dame Trelise Cooper today apologised for any offence caused by the use of models wearing American Indian headdress, but it is not the first time she has courted controversy.

Cooper says she apologises "unreservedly" for any offence caused after she sent models down the runway wearing American Indian headdress, but this is not the first time Cooper has courted racial controversy: in 2011, 10 of her models had the skin around their eyes stretched back with clear tape to create an "Asian" look; further exaggerated by dramatic eye make-up during her Fashion Week show.

Richard Two Bears, a Native American who moved to Tauranga 30 years ago, said he found the 'props' used in yesterday's show offensive and culturally insensitive. 

"Using Native American things like this is really frowned upon. It would be like somebody in New York dressing someone up like a Maori."

The headdress was a war bonnet, with each feather representing a different victory, he said. 

"I'm a war veteran and have my own, which I earned the right to wear.


"It's kind of taking the mickey by using it in a fashion show."

Cooper has a really good reputation but should be more careful about using a Native American headdress, he said. 

After her show yesterday at Fashion Week, Dame Trelise posted a photo of one of her models wearing American Indian headdress.

''70's bohemian vibes at the Trelise Cooper New Zealand Fashion Week 2014 Show,'' she wrote, setting off a flood of criticism, as well as some support.


This morning she took to Facebook to address the furore.

"I unreservedly apologise and regret any offence I have caused through using Native American Head Dress in my catwalk show. I genuinely respect and honour all cultures, races and religions. It was never my intention to disrespect another culture.

"It is my hope that through my mistake and ignorance, like me, people now know and are aware of the sacredness of the head dress to Native Americans," Dame Trelise said.

This is not the first time a fashion designer has caused a stir by using a Native American headdress. Victoria's Secret used one during it's annual fashion show in 2012 and was forced to apologise.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown, who was in the front row of the Cooper show, issued a statement today: ''I'm very proud of Dame Trelise's contribution to Auckland's creative sector and economy. Her apology is an absolute indication of her integrity."


Earlier, filmmaker Taika Waititi was among those venting: ''I think I understand what Trelise means by '70s vibes' - a time when it was cool to be culturally insensitive and racism was super awesome. Nice throw back to better times, babe, we native people celebrate with you!!!''

Te Papa contemporary Maori culture curator Puawai Cairns weighed in: ''Oh joy. The epitome of middle aged NZ feminity has got all nostalgic for her 70s youth and decided it's time to go and pillage our Native American whanaungas [cousins] tapu war bonnet.''

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Comedian Jeremy Elwood took to Twitter to label the choice ''utterly wrong''.

''Is @trelisecooper seriously using First Nations headdress at #NZFW14?''

Canada, where Elwood was born, is home to a large First Nation - or American Indian - population.

On Facebook, Morgan Ashworth described the headdress as ''offensive cultural appropriation'', adding that it appeared Cooper was deleting comments about it posted on her Facebook page.

''You put it on the runway, you have to defend your poor choices,'' Ashworth wrote.


Wendy Tucker wrote: ''Truth is the Lakota and other native tribes are still living in poverty and face racism every day. This kind of disrespect by a company owned by a 'Dame' makes me ashamed to be a New Zealander!!!''

Dame Trelise had support on Facebook from Catherine Spencer.

''This is a fashion show not a political statement. Just cool it. All cultures share and learn from each other. It is art and quite beautiful.

''North American headdress is a fashion choice which copped criticism overseas when done by Chanel in 2013 and Victoria's Secret in 2012."


The 70s, when cultural insensitivity and racism was super awesome innocent fun. Nice throw back @trelisecooper! RT: http://t.co/YbLj6pwhL3

Is @trelisecooper seriously using First Nations headdress at #NZFW14?

I'm pro boycotting Trelise Cooper. Cultural appropriation is bad enough but also the world needs fewer dresses with doilies slapped on them.

So everyone's gonna boycott Trelise Cooper... Like you could afford her clothes? #hatersgonnahatehatehate

is anyone able to tell me which tribe the headdresses from #trelisecooper show are associated with? does it say on the showcard? #nzfw

The head wear went with the theme I feel like it would have looked odd with out it. Gorgeous line @trelisecooper #NZFW14 #gorgeous

@trelisecooper Native headdresses are not 'bohemian' they are not 'fashion'. They are not costumes. They are sacred cultural treasures.

Latest rumour is that Trelise Cooper will design the new season gear for the Washington Redskins. #trelisecooper

A deliberate ploy to seem edgy? REEKS of desperation. INappropriation #TreliseCooper #NZFW http://t.co/8R52930hWv Image via @wallacelchapman