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Cultural appropriation fuss over fashion belt on online store

Take note – story published 3 years ago

An international incident is in the offing after eagle-eyed Latvian history buffs spotted the remarkable resemblance between a high-fashion accessory and an ancient archaeological artefact, reported Latvian Television July 24.

Internationally renowned Belgian fashion designer Dries van Noten is the name on a very fetching belt buckle which, it is claimed, is an exact copy of an 18th century Kurzeme brooch, yet does not acknowledge any design debt in its online description.

"This fact has caused heated discussions among the defenders of our culture both in Latvia and in the foreign diaspora," according to LTV, which is indeed a national-level broadcaster, and this made the national news.

Krista Laukmane-Schmidt, a Latvian artist and diaspora activist living in Chicago, U.S., noticed a belt buckle with a Latvian motif for sale at an online store. Her attention was drawn to the name of Dries Van Noten on the belt. However, although the brooch copy is accurate, its appears to be of poor quality and does not seem to be showcased at Dries van Noten's official website. 

An online discussion about a potentially unacknowledged use of Latvian cultural heritage ensued. 

"The brooch we see is known in the territory of Latvia,” commented historian Guntis Zemītis, suggesting the design showed clear historical elements.  

The Museum of Baltic Jewelry displays three brooches of similar style and historical period from Kurzeme. Such brooches can also be found in other Latvian museums.

Ieva Straupe-Lūse, a jewelry artist and head of the company Baltu rotas which makes accurate reproductions of many pieces of ancient Latvian jewelry, said her company always provides accurate information about the source and date of designs, and that buyers find such information fascinating.

The TV report contained no comment from Dries van Noten himself confirming whether he had designed such a belt or whether it is perhaps his name that is being used in vain by a counterfeiter. Until resolution of the belt issue we shall have to remain in a state of suspense all round.

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