Poverty Cosplayer Brand Magnolia Pearl Reaches a New Racist (and Extremely Ugly) Low
Rich people cosplaying poverty via absurdly expensive clothes that look like something your grandmother wouldn’t even use as cleaning rags is nothing new. Luxury brand Magnolia Pearl takes the concept so far, however, that I’ve previously found myself wondering if it’s actually an elaborate satirical art project, designed to part oblivious rich people from their money.
If you’re unfamiliar with the brand, here’s a good primer on the ludicrously expensive “poverty core” brand:
While this really does feel like parody, the company’s new $95 “Geronimo” t-shirt—which draws on old, racist traditions—makes it clear once and for all that they really are just inordinately insensible, selling the aesthetics of poverty and racism as enlightenment to people who mistake appropriation for allyship.
The bright pink t-shirt emblazoned with a public domain photograph of the Apache leader’s face is accompanied on the website by this truly audacious piece of text:
Magnolia Pearl presents this Indigenous leader with all reverence, in the spirit of sharing the ways, championing the rights and remembering the history of Native people.
As you’ve no doubt already guessed, the company is not giving any profits to any Native American communities. The money made off this absurdly expensive and laughably simplistic design is going straight back to Magnolia Pearl. There’s no education or outreach being done, no lifting up of actual Indigenous voices, just making bank off the image of Goyaałé—which, by the way, is the Apache leader’s actual name, not that anyone at Magnolia Pearl could possibly be bothered to care about the man off of whose likeness they’re profiting, despite their proclamations of “reverence.”
This is not the first time the company has featured Goyaałé on one of their designs, and it’s also not the only appropriative or inappropriate use of facets of other people’s cultures in their work—complete with white wellness hippy blurb text that completely misunderstands the aspect of that culture they’re using.
Said to both position and remove obstacles, the Hindu deity Ganesh provides the medicine along the path. This tee will accompany you as you stay the course, and overcome.
That’s from another $95 dollar t-shirt that looks like something you’d pick up for twenty quid at Camden Market, but apparently, it’s going to help you “overcome.” OK.
Magnolia Pearl’s extremely strange “poverty core”/”hobo chic” aesthetic has been getting rightfully ripped apart by TikTok for months, and it seems like some of those criticisms may have got through to them, because nothing on their website appears to have “hobo” in the title anymore. Maybe they realized turning homelessness into a fun aesthetic was actually pretty grotesque? I don’t know, that might be giving them too much credit because now the site has “miner” trousers all over it instead, each costing hundreds of dollars and featuring blurbs that say things like:
“Each day we dig—unearthing treasures and truths long concealed. Magnolia Pearl’s Miner Denims are the ideal companion piece for whatever tools you might employ in this brave endeavor of staying human.”
Look there’s nothing wrong with shabby chic. I like shabby chic. But there’s a big difference between “looks like it was stolen from an abandoned French chateau fifty years after the terror” and “looks like it was taken from starving workers in the time before OSHA regulations.” It’s not just about what you’re drawing on, but what you’re presenting as aspirational, desirable. It’s about the fantasy you’re creating, and dressing up the coal mining lifestyle as a source of spiritual enlightenment for people who’ve never even come close to manual labor, or been in the same room as a coal miner, is an alarming fetishization of poverty.
To charge hundreds of dollars for pieces designed to look like they’re falling apart from years of hard labor and sleeping outside in the rain? Well, it says a lot about the designers, and buyers, and their total lack of respect for the people their looks are inspired by, and their inability to see them as real human beings rather than a fantasy. We’re back in Petite Trianon territory here, except a lot of these buyers probably think of themselves as aligned with the people whose lives they’re sanitizing and playing pretend with.
At least maybe these kinds of brands will keep rich people from raiding out and upselling the entire contents of thrift stores, that’s about all you can say for them. And seriously, don’t wear images of Indigenous people like they’re a fashion statement, or profit from them if you’re not yourself Indigenous. That should go without saying and yet here we are.
(featured image: Magnolia Pearl)
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