In late June, Kendall and Kylie Jenner were hit with fervent backlash when they released a line of “vintage” t-shirts that appropriated musical and cultural iconography. Though the pair apologized, The Doors’ estate has even decided to sue the Jenners for using the band’s image on a shirt. The incident is humiliating in its own right, but it’s also drawing attention to the Jenners’ history of borrowing concepts without buying them.
The shirts featured superimposed photos of the sisters’ faces and initials over washed-out images of album covers and music artists, including Pink Floyd, Ozzy Osbourne, The Doors, 2Pac, and Notorious B.I.G. None of the material was used with permission from the artists or their estates.
The Jenners met particular outrage for using the faces of the two beloved, deceased rappers, and Biggie Smalls’ mother even posted angrily to Instagram, calling the shirts “disrespectful.”
Unfortunately, Kendall and Kylie have long enacted a pattern of exploiting black activism and culture to fill their already-deep pockets, from that ludicrous Pepsi commercial to appropriative fashion choices. Early last month, Kylie stole designs from Plugged NYC, a fashion line of which a black woman, Tizita Balemlay, is the founder and CEO.
The “vintage” shirts are just the latest addition to the saga. To make matters worse, the selfie shows Kylie wearing big hoop earrings, a trend established by and associated with women of color. Though the pair apologized vaguely for misunderstanding which images were theirs to use, they did not address habitually appropriating, and profiting from, cultural signifiers.
The Jenners’ political indifference and eagerness to appropriate black culture is unsurprising, but one wonders how they were able to get the t-shirt project past their lawyers. The images are obvious copyright violations and were bound to receive a legal challenge.
But then again, creating controversy may have been the sisters’ goal. “There’s no such thing as bad press, and sadly, this is a perfect example of it,” celebrity brand strategist Phil Pallen told CNN. The Jenners, according to Pallen, will “continue to misstep, fuel the media, apologize, be rewarded with attention, and then do it all over again.”
So we should expect to see more of this in the future; when the Jenners accumulate angry critics, they also accumulate cash.
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