When the lanky white model walked onto the runway at a Gucci fashion show last year, people immediately zeroed in on one part of his ensemble: A bright blue turban.
It was styled nearly identically to the traditional headwear of Sikhs, who follow a faith with roots in South Asia, and outrage abounded. The Italian luxury brand was widely panned for not showing the look on “a brown model” and failing to grasp the turban’s significance.
“As a Sikh, I see this as a huge sign of disrespect and disregard toward Sikhism,” one person tweeted at the time.
But the initial backlash apparently had little effect, as keen-eyed social media users discovered this week that Gucci’s “Indy Full Turban” – described as a “gorgeously crafted turban” that is “ready to turn heads while keeping you in comfort as well as trademark style” – was being sold by Nordstrom for a reported price of nearly $800. The revelation has since prompted Sikhs and other critics to come after Gucci again, accusing the brand of trivializing an article of faith whose wearers often face discrimination and are attacked for expressing their religious identity.
By late Wednesday, the turban’s listing on Nordstrom’s website was marked as sold out and its $790 price tag was no longer visible. The department store and Gucci did not respond to requests for comment.
In Sikhism, wearing a turban “asserts a public commitment to maintaining the values and ethics of the tradition, including service, compassion, and honesty,” according to the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy organization. There are more than 25 million Sikhs worldwide, and the United States is home to an estimated 500,000, the coalition said.
On Tuesday, the Sikh Coalition tweeted an image of the Nordstrom listing and criticized the treatment of the “sacred” headwear.
“The turban is not just an accessory to monetize,” the group wrote, adding in a separate tweet that it had contacted Nordstrom and Gucci. It wrote: “Many find this cultural appropriation inappropriate, since those wearing the turban just for fashion will not appreciate its deep religious significance.”
In labeling the item cultural appropriation, many slammed Gucci for profiting off “the same look” that Sikhs are “attacked and killed” over. The coalition describes turbans as “the most visible aspect of the Sikh identity.”
Sikhs, who are often mistaken for Muslims, have been the victims of discrimination and numerous hate crimes. Just four days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner in Arizona, was fatally shot by a man who thought he was an Arab. In 2012, six people were killed by a gunman in a shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. News stories in recent years have detailed accounts of Sikhs being beaten by people calling them “terrorists” and threatened with guns, among other violent encounters.
“A Sikh Turban is not just a piece of cloth,” one person tweeted. “It carries immense values, respect, a courageous history, lots and lots of expectations.”
The turban is “not a cute fashion accessory,” another person opined, calling the Gucci design “inappropriate.”
Several people also balked at the price of the Gucci turban, which they said goes against one of the faith’s core tenets: equality.
“Turbans are supposed to promote equality among the people,” a person wrote, adding that selling one for hundreds of dollars “promotes the opposite of equality.”
The religion is meant to be “accessible not luxurious,” another commentator tweeted.
Ravinder Singh, a British Sikh humanitarian, urged any non-Sikhs among his thousands of Twitter followers not to spend their money on “a fake n fancy [Gucci] turban.”
“You can inbox me your location and I can arrange FREE lessons in Turban tying in most places and provide cloth material,” he wrote.
Gucci has made a recent habit of sparking cultural outcry over its designs. In February, the brand came under fire for a balaclava jumper that many argued was “racist” because it evoked blackface. Amid the backlash, Gucci apologized, pulled the sweater and vowed to increase diversity throughout the company and turn the incident into a “learning experience.”
As anger over the turban spread this week, critics called for protests and demanded an explanation from Gucci.
“[Gucci], who made the decision to capitalize on something so significant to Sikhs?” a critic tweeted. “And your team went as far as telling people how to accessorize for a ‘night on the town’. You don’t use a turban to add ‘pop of blue’ in your outfit.”