Mister Freedom revealed images from their upcoming SS 15 collection known as “Saigon Cowboy” last week. As the name would imply, the line is heavily inspired by US military clothing and culture during the Vietnam War.
Mister Freedom went the extra mile by creating a few of their own versions of the patches found on GI uniforms. One of which featured an Asian stereotype caricature of a Vietcong figher: slanty eyes, buck teeth, conical hat, yellow skin, etc.
As you may have suspected, it didn’t go over very well. After a good deal of backlash (notably from Four Pins and Put This On), Mister Freedom announced that the above patch would not be included in production and subsequently deleted or covered it up in all promotional photos.
Viet Cong fighter related patch from our "Saigon Cowboy" anti-war 2015 collection appears to be too offensive for some. It will be removed.
— Christophe Loiron (@_MisterFreedom_) January 18, 2015
I’ve always been a fan of Mister Freedom. They’re in that upper echelon of brands like Kapital and Rising Sun & Co. that can remain authentic to classic heritage/Americana but still produce something fresh and playful every season.
This patch unfortunately isn’t either of those things and hits the same notes as an Abercrombie t-shirt from a decade ago (and those even had some decent puns). Which is unfortunate, because the collection as a whole is very well designed. The patterns, fabrics, and silhouettes all appear bang-on.
In the same vein, I don’t believe Christophe Loiron or anyone at Mister Freedom is a hate-mongering racist nor that they even intended to hurt anyone with the imagery.
The collection is obviously very well researched–the patch in question is based on actual GI patches from the war–and aims for the same tone as Ken Melvin’s 1968 book of Vietnam GI humor “Sorry ‘Bout That”.
So where’s the line when you’re pulling inspiration from an era that was much less tolerant than today? Is there even a line? Legally, you can produce anything you want, so it instead becomes a matter of taste and what kind of message you’re trying to broadcast. There will always be a gulf between a designer’s intent and the way an audience interprets it. Sometimes that gulf can be quite glaring.
Loiron claims that the intention for the line was to show the “absurdity of war/imperialism“. And maybe that’s there, but if I saw some dude on the street rocking that patch my first thought wouldn’t be, “Wow, that guy really gets the absurd irony of 1960s US foreign policy, let’s discuss the tenuous legal footing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution!” I’d think, “Wow, that guy must hate Asians!”
Mister Freedom’s intent was more the former than the latter, but first impressions are paramount in fashion. Take this jacket from Kapital’s most recent lookbook, Sant Domingo Burning. It has the Japanese character “manji” printed all over the sleeves, but pretty much everyone in the western world would tell you this jacket is covered in Nazi symbols.
Or the collab line Mark McNairy did with Gap in 2012, which had “Manifest Destiny” t-shirts–y’know, the belief that white Americans had the god-given right to civilize (i.e. remove the Indians from) the rest of the North American continent. Apparently McNasty thought it was shorthand for “survival of the fittest”.
It’s impossible to hit the mark every time in any creative pursuit. Gaffes happen. We’ve had our fair share here as well. When Mister Freedom realized the message they were sending wasn’t the one much of his audience was receiving, they pulled the patch. But as with the above examples, how could you not expect that was going to be the reaction in the first place?
Still looking forward to more collections from Mister Freedom, unless this article gets us blocked from viewing them.