Religion & Beliefs

The Scarf That Wouldn’t Die

Not too long ago, Cameron Diaz stumbled from her shining path with a fashion faux pas that took the form of a messenger bag. The olive green accessory bore a red star and declared "Serve the People" in Chinese lettering. … Read More

By / August 29, 2007

Not too long ago, Cameron Diaz stumbled from her shining path with a fashion faux pas that took the form of a messenger bag. The olive green accessory bore a red star and declared "Serve the People" in Chinese lettering. Sounds nice enough, but oops. Unfortunately for Cameron, that was one of Mao Zedong's most famous political slogans, and the tote turned an innocent jaunt through Peru into a fashion (and PR) disaster. After all, most of us are familiar with the classic lyric from the Beatles song, "Revolution": But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow. Here's a general rule of thumb for public figures: If you don't know what it says, don't wear it. I have a good amount of sympathy for Cameron Diaz. I mean, shoot–I don't speak Chinese, either, and could easily have made the same mistake.

It's different when the same "mistake" is repeated again and again by large corporations who should (and do) know better. I realize that at this point, the ongoing popularity of the keffiyeh in fashion forward, alternateen circles is old hat–or old scarf, as it were–but that doesn't diminish my overwhelming sense of incredulity that yet another retailer is marketing this "breezy, global-chic" symbol of hatred and terror to tweens, teens, college students, and "young independents." Back in January, Urban Outfitters briefly offered and quickly assassinated what they called an "anti-war woven scarf." In March it was Ark Clothing with their "Arafat Scarf" (way to be upfront, guys!). Then we had Delia's who first called it a "Peace Scarf," but later changed its name to "Euro Scarf" in response to complaints and protest.

Delia's, as it happens, is where this trend turns from annoying to disturbing. See, I realize that "radical chic" is nothing new. From Berkeley college students to British hipsters, the keffiyeh has been around the necks of wannabe-revolutionaries and misguided-mutineers for decades.

What's creepy is that the most recent marketer of the keffiyeh is Alloy. Why creepy? Because Alloy owns Delia's.

Now, I'm not really the paranoid, conspiracy-theorist type, but this is no mere coincidence. Having already gone through this with their Delia's brand, Alloy can't plead ignorance about the symbolism of said scarf. Alloy, a multi-faceted advertising, clothing, publishing, film, and television company, bills itself as "a widely recognized pioneer in nontraditional marketing." Nontraditional marketing, eh? I'll say. The company is calling its unique brand of keffiyeh the "Riviera Scarf," because, um, that's where all the terrorists go on holiday?

Oh, and by the way, Cameron: you got a "Get Out of Jail Free" card for the Mao thing, but sporting a keffiyeh is not gonna fly.