When Prince Harry's ex-girlfriend, Cressida Bonas, showed up to the royal wedding this past weekend, she wore a colorful dress by English designer Eponine London.
Ordinarily, that wouldn't have been a big deal, especially 4,000 miles away in Minnesota.
But it was a big deal in Minnesota, home to the largest urban Hmong population in the United States.
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The dress is part of the designer's "Tribal" collection, which is made from "fabrics sourced from antique shops in the north of Thailand," according to the designer website.
But many people didn't think the dress looked "tribal" at all. It looked like traditional Hmong clothing. The bright colors, embroidery and beading are all hallmarks of Hmong clothing — and they took to social media to point that out.
Facebook posts ranged from mildly annoyed:
To calls of cultural appropriation:
And some people were flattered to see that a Hmong dress was worn to a royal wedding.
Lee Pao Xiong didn't get up early to watch the royal wedding on TV. He saw posts about the dress later that day on social media.
"At first I was happy to see the Hmong culture getting exposure on the national stage," he said. "But they didn't reference it as a Hmong outfit."
Xiong is director of the Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia University in St. Paul. He said traditional Hmong clothing has a 5,000 year history, stretching back to a war his ancestors fought against China, and lost.
"As we were escaping the Chinese," he said. "We lost our writing system. So the elders sewed the alphabet into our clothing."
Bright stripes in the cloth represent specific rivers crossed during their escape to Laos. Hmong fabrics are a record of their history — and Xiong said the fashion industry has been exploiting that cloth for years.
"I travel to China, Laos and Thailand," he said. "I've seen entrepreneurs travel into these remote Hmong villages and buy antique clothing. They take it back home, cut it, sew it back into a new design and sell it for $500, when they only paid $20."
Eponine London, he said, is not the first designer to use Hmong materials. But it is one of the first to get called out for it online.
Attempts to reach the designer for comment were unsuccessful.
Since the controversy hit social media, the designer shut down its Facebook page and changed the name of the "Tribal" collection — now calling it the "Hmong" collection.
Xiong said he doesn't think the Hmong community will be satisfied.
"They just changed the name of the collection," he said. "I don't think it's genuine. They never cared in the first place."
If the designer really cares about the Hmong people, Xiong said they should bring some of their profits back to the villages where they found the cloth in the first place.