It was Tom Wolfe who coined the term “Radical Chic,” but clothing powerhouse H&M appears to have taken the concept to heart.
The Swedish retail-clothing giant, famous for its low-cost fast-fashion couture, has unintentionally raised the ire of the Kurds, an embattled Middle Eastern ethnic minority that is now locked in battle with the Islamic State militant group.
Kurds accuse H&M of appropriating the uniform of female members of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia whose female peshmerga fighters have become an irresistible attraction to international news outlets covering the conflict.
The YPG has been fighting Islamic State since mid-September in the city of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, a Kurdish enclave across the border from Turkey in Syria.
The military-inspired garment, part of H&M’s new fall line and featured in its online catalog, is a khaki jumpsuit with two sets of front pockets. While similar garb is worn by diverse fighting forces worldwide, it is particularly reminiscent of the baggy uniforms worn by female peshmerga, who participate in front-line action with their male counterparts.
The resemblance did not go unnoticed by Kurds, many of whom took to social media to blast H&M for what they regarded as a crass appropriation of the peshmerga uniform.
“Kurdish women stay in their land, sacrificing their lives ... and H&M seriously?” wrote Milad Ps, a Kurdish commentator on Facebook. “Is this really the way you are respecting these courageous women?!”
Sandra Sasvari, another commentator, was even more apoplectic.
“These women are fighting for their lives and the freedom of an entire people, and H&M want[s] to reduce their entire struggle to a fashion garment that white women in the West can purchase and wear to their next occasion??”
In the face of this growing furor, H&M’s global press officer Ida Stahlnacke released a statement apologizing “if we have offended anyone with this piece,” adding that it was merely a response to increased demand for jumpsuits.
She added that the particular jumpsuit causing the controversy was “part of a larger collection consisting of many garments in khaki green, which also is one of the trendiest colors of this season.”
Bulos is a special correspondent.