The annual Victoria's Secret fashion show taped last Wednesday caused a minor stir last week — but not because of any sexy underwear on display.
Model Karlie Kloss (pictured at left) set off some controversy when she walked the runway wearing a Native American headdress (also called a war bonnet), a culturally insensitive faux pas that led the company to pull the footage of the offending outfit from its planned Dec. 4 broadcast.
Several Native American groups called the lingerie company out for the blunder. Native Appropriations, a blog covering imagery of indigenous cultures, accused the retailer of "egregious cultural appropriation, stereotyping, and marginalizing of Native peoples." Ruth Hopkins, a columnist for a Native American news site, wrote that "after years of patronage and loyalty to the Victoria's Secret brand, I am repaid with the mean-spirited, disrespectful trivialization of my blood ancestry and the proud Native identity I work hard to instill in my children." Putting a headdress on a white model is particularly offensive, she wrote, because among the Sioux tribe, war bonnets are exclusively worn by men, with each feather symbolizing an act of valor.
The $12 million show, which had musical performances by Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Bruno Mars, showcased plenty of not-meant-to-be worn ensembles, including circus-themed outfits and a $2.5 million "fantasy bra." Last year the show averaged nearly 10.4 million viewers, up from 8.9 million in 2010, according to Horizon Media. (This year's show was taped on Nov. 7 and is set to air Dec. 4.)
Kloss, who walked the catwalk in a leopard bikini, turquoise beaded jewelry, high-heeled moccasins, and a floor-length feathered headdress (with the word "Thanksgiving" projected on a screen behind her), issued an apology via her Twitter account on Sunday: "I am deeply sorry if what I wore during the VS Show offended anyone. I support VS's decision to remove the outfit from the broadcast."
Victoria's Secret, owned by Limited Brands (LTD) also apologized on Twitter, and issued a statement: "We are sorry that the Native American headdress replica used in our recent fashion show has upset individuals. We sincerely apologize as we absolutely had no intention to offend anyone. Out of respect, we will not be including the outfit in any broadcast, marketing materials nor in any other way."
Whether the controversy will put any kind of dent in Victoria's Secret's sales is questionable. By apologizing and pulling the offending clip from the show, the company addressed the goof quickly, so the damage will likely be minimal, says Brad Adgate, director of research at Horizon Media. With a presence in nearly every shopping mall in the country, it's the biggest specialty retailer for intimate apparel. In 2011 Limited Brands sales sales increased $751 million to $10.364 billion, while Victoria's Secret Stores sales rose $601 million to $6.121 billion.
The lingerie seller isn't alone among big-name retailers accused of insensitivity. There was a fair amount of anger aimed at American Apparel, which sent an e-mail blast to customers during Hurricane Sandy for a 20% off sale for people living in the affected states, with a tagline that read "In case you're bored during the storm."
The headdress gaffe also — oddly -- comes soon after the band No Doubt pulled its music video last week after getting complaints that it was insensitive to Native Americans. In the video for "Looking Hot," band members dress up in stereotypical cowboys and Indians attire.