Peter Jensen is probably the last designer on earth one would expect to trigger protests. It would be like campaigning against fluffy kittens or baby rabbits... Stop the bunnies, they are too cute! Never going to happen. However, the Danish designer who is known for taking such endearingly quirky themes for his shows as the 1970s camping film Nuts In May, and classic Jodie Foster films, has become the object of a surprising, and rather unusual protest.
Residents of the town of Nuuk in Greenland took to the icy streets last week to protest against Jensen's autumn/winter collection. Shown at London Fashion Week last February, it was inspired by his Aunt Jytte who lived in Nuuk in the late Sixties and by Jensen's own research in Greenland. Sea green capes with braid edging, woolly hats with two bobbles and jumpers with polar bear designs all featured in the cute-as-pie collection. However, it was the white leather thigh-high boots printed with flowers and inspired by traditional Greenlandic Kamik boots that were the focus of the protests. About 30 to 40 women objected to the folkish footwear because they felt that Jensen had simply copied their national costume. They also felt that he was looking down on their culture, of which they are fiercely protective.
Jensen thinks the protesters may be particularly sensitive because he is Danish, and Greenland was a colony of Denmark until 1979, but he's still mortified by the icy reception. "I am shocked that our loving tribute to Kamik boots and beadwork capes could be construed as in any way exploitative," he says. "We hoped to bring the world's attention to the beauty of the Greenlandic national costume. We hoped that the people of Greenland would embrace the attention their heritage has received."
Sometimes fashion's appropriation of other cultures can look crass – remember Lauren Bush's penchant for a Keffiyeh scarf. It's also been guilty of trivialising complex political issues and iconography; Che Guevara T-shirts anyone? However, fashion has benefited aesthetically from an exchange, and sometimes wholesale theft, of ideas for years.
In the sixth century, Anglo-Saxon women wore clothes influenced by the French, the Orientalists of the early 20th century were inspired by kimonos and richly coloured silks, and this season the tribal look appeared at a French house, Louis Vuitton, designed by American designer, Marc Jacobs. Fortunately for Jensen, several Greenlanders have emailed him to voice their liking for the footwear; one man wanted the boots for his daughter, while another woman wants a pair to wear to a cruise ship convention in Miami as, "it would be a fantastic eyecatcher". Now there's a quirky theme for Jensen's next collection.