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Coachella is back. But have festivals escaped the problematic legacy of “boho chic”?

Written by Lea Dolan, CNN

This weekend sees the return of Coachella after a pandemic-induced three-year hiatus. And, as always, there will be as much written about the fashion of the festival as its performances.

But while the event was once ranked among the most stylish outings on the cultural calendar – thanks to its celebrities in attendance and its adjacent exclusive parties hosted by a growing list of fashion brands, from Lacoste to H&M – recent editions don’t hardly set the tone for the rest of the summer.

In truth, the annual festival has never recovered from the fashion faux pas of the past decade. In particular, some images proved particularly difficult to shake: that of festival-goers strolling through the desert with faux-Native American feathered headdresses or with their foreheads adorned with South Asian bindis (or sometimes both).

A festival goer goes to Coachella in 2015. Credit: Rachel Murray/Getty Images North America

The festival’s reputation for cultural appropriation and insensitive sartorial choices was also amplified by the tone-deaf fashion of the celebrities in attendance.

Vanessa Hudgens, a regular at the festival whom she is often dubbed the “Queen of Coachella”, has been called several times to twinning ponchos and maxi dresses with bindis. Likewise, Kendall Jenner once wore an Indian “nath” — an Indian bridal piece of jewelry that connects a nose ring to an ear piercing.
In 2014, former Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio faced online backlash for posting a photo of herself wearing a feathered headpiece on Instagram with the caption: “Becoming more inspired for @coachella with this amazing headpiece American Indian.” Yet three years later, variations on the sacred object – which some chiefs and warriors wore during ceremonies or in battle, and which was often made from sacred eagle feathers – were still on display, albeit with a growing chorus of disapproval (one 2017 festival-goer apologized on Instagram after being called out online).

The Coachella attendees were by no means the only offenders. In 2012, model Karlie Kloss apologized for wearing a floor-length headdress on a Victoria’s Secret catwalk, and throughout the decade the evolution from “boho chic” to something more problematic continued. is performed at festivals around the world. But while organizers of Britain’s Glastonbury festival moved to ban on-site sales of Aboriginal-style headdresses in 2014 – as did several Canadian music festivals and, later, San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival – they persisted. in the Coachella Valley.

Guests attend Coachella in 2014.

Guests attend Coachella in 2014. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

Whether it’s the pristine slate desert setting or the fact that the festival is set in Southern California, where the counterculture spirit dates back to the 1940s, the festival has had a harder time. getting rid of the bohemian aesthetic – and its influencer culture meant that offensive images circulated at tremendous volume and speed.
“Fashion is such a powerful medium. It’s used for performativity, we put on a suit to be more professional and an office space, for example,” Sage Paul, executive and artistic director at CNN, told CNN. Indigenous Fashion Arts in Toronto. video call. “And festivals are places to really experiment and explore, but I think there has to be creativity and inspiration in that exploration. Stealing other people’s nations and calling it creativity is just lazy. “

The evolution of “bohemian”

“Boho chic” may now have uncomfortable connotations, but it started seemingly innocently in the early 2000s. Short for “bohemian”, in honor of the 60s and 70s hippie ensembles that inspired it, the term has become a sartorial catch-all for suede fringe, crochet halter necks and paisley print.

A festival-goer in April 2014 wearing a flower crown.

A festival-goer in April 2014 wearing a flower crown. Credit: Diana Fields/Getty Images for Coachella

The look’s popularity often dates back to an outfit worn by actress Sienna Miller at Glastonbury in 2004. With her head in perfectly imperfect beach waves and dressed in a tiered mini dress, Uggs and an embellished belt , Miller seemed to embody the carefree sensibility of festival life. Her standout accessory quickly anointed her by the British press as the patroness of hip-skimming coin belts. (She later distanced herself from the style, telling US Vogue, “I never want to wear anything floaty or coin belt again.”)
Sienna Miller at the Glastonbury Festival in 2004.

Sienna Miller at the Glastonbury Festival in 2004. Credit: Andy Butterton/PA Images/Getty Images

In fact, boho chic ensembles had already started appearing on the runway. In 2003, Chloé’s fall-winter collection featured flowing feminine silhouettes and tiered dresses. The following year, a mesmerizing spring-summer collection by Roberto Cavalli saw crochet ponchos, long, billowing skirts paired with tie-up bikini tops, fur vests and even embellished fedoras take the runway by storm. . In 2005, Bottega Veneta and DSquared layered chunky silver and pearl necklaces with bolo ties.

It was only then, probably when big belts, bare feet and tousled hair didn’t shock the fashion world, that bohemian became more experimental — and more offensive.

In 2007, British Vogue produced a spread called “Indian Summer” which saw Indians awkwardly enlisting alongside models as glorified props. “Eclectic, colorful, crazy,” the caption read, adding, “the modern gypsy’s style is every bit as exotic as her travels.” Later, in 2009, Kate Moss starred in a bizarre Romani-inspired photo shoot with a Gypsy caravan, Shetland ponies and a roaring campfire – encouraging a flippant use of “gypsy” as an aesthetic wave rather than a ethnic group.

A new identity

But online criticism of these campaigns eventually trickled down to the festival world. Paul sees recent attempts to expose culturally insensitive Coachella fashion as a triumph in the battle for representation and education. “The internet has provided a platform for this response to be given to these acts of racism and appropriation, which is great,” she said. “I think the reason we’re seeing this pushback now is because the internet allows us to have a bigger, stronger voice.”

A participant wears a fringed bikini at the 2015 edition.

A participant wears a fringed bikini at the 2015 edition. Credit: Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Coachella

At the last Coachella, in 2019, there were still plenty of flowing skirts and fringed crop tops on display — but the worst examples of cultural appropriation had effectively been banished from sight. Whether attendees can restore the avant-garde reputation of the festival’s heyday, however, is another matter altogether.

For Paul, whose work spotlights Native American designers, creatives and artists, festival-goers could seek to demonstrate appreciation rather than appropriation by investing directly in communities.

“It seems so obvious to me,” she said. “Just treat people the same. But obviously there’s always going to be a power imbalance, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Top image caption: Guests attend Coachella in Indio, California in 2014.


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