The Way of the Keffiyeh: High Fashion, Baked Goods, and “Israelization”

Photo Credit: YouTube.

As the Palestinian keffiyeh has become ubiquitous around the world, we look at the many ways its dynamic pattern has inspired countless individuals from the world of high fashion to bakers.

Some are just for fun and others address more serious matters, like subjugation of women and colonial appropriation.

1. High Fashion Keffiyeh 

Keffiyeh walks the runway:

Many observers believe that the French luxury brand Givenchy was inspired by the keffiyeh for its Spring 2010 ad campaign:

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Spanish brand Zara, the world’s largest fashion house, cut shorts out of a keffiyeh:

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The campaign came under double criticism from Palestinians for failing to reference any Palestinian patrimony and from pro-Israel supporters for selling the keffiyeh pattern. In any case, the shorts were eventually removed from Zara’s online shop.

Keffiyeh dresses made it to the 2014 New York Fashion Week:

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2.  Mucho Keffiyeh

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Artist Mona Hatoum crafted a keffiyeh out of women’s hair for her “Keffieh” art project. By weaving women’s hair through a traditional male scarf, Hatoum symbolically subverts a symbol of patriarchy.

The art critic Feresteh Daftari called it “a kind of quiet protest in the art of embroidery” that “is subtly giving women visibility through both the work’s medium and its technique.”

3. Interior Keffiyeh

Interior designer Alisha van Bone used the keffiyeh pattern for a craft room at a children’s art center.

Jemima Wyman Pattern Bandits Children's Art Centre GOMA
Jemima Wyman Pattern Bandits
Children’s Art Centre GOMA

4. Bib Keffiyeh

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Be honest, this is the cutest manifestation of the keffiyeh you’ve ever seen!

5. Keffiyeh Sneakers

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Skater brand Active designed a keffiyeh-inspired sneaker to promote its 2007 ‘Drop Sneakers Not Bombs’ campaign.

‘Drop Sneakers Not Bomb’ was an anti-war campaign that raised money for the non-profit Invisible Children dedicated to freeing kidnapped children forced to serve in the Lord’s Resistance Army in east and central Africa.

Unlike many fashionistas, Active adopted the keffiyeh in a spirit of genuine Global South solidarity. And put its money where its style is by donation $3 for every sneaker sold.

The keffiyeh material gradually tears away – as one skates with the shoe  – to reveal a bomb print.

. . .

In 2009, German retailer Solebox collaborated with American skater brand Vans to produce another keffiyeh patterned sneaker. There was no campaign attached to this one, but it was made as a special collectors edition with only 90 pairs worldwide.

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6. Also Known As

We share this because we find the description to be amusing. The photo and caption were uploaded on Pinterest.

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“Palestinian boy wearing arafat shawl. Also known as “arabic scarf” or keffiyeh.”

7. Keffiyeh Cake 

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8. Metal Gear Keffiyeh 

Big Boss, one of the characters from the video game series Metal Gear Solid, appears to don a keffiyeh for the game’s fifth installment.

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9. From West to East 

Dutch artist Sander Reijgersd designed Nike jackets with keffiyehs for his “Cultural contrast of symbolism” art project. A combination of Western consumerism and Eastern aesthetics makes for an interesting contrast.

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10. Mickey’s Keffiyeh 

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The artist Ariane Littman explained her project thus:

I used in a single work two contradictory popular icons, on the one hand Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck’s friend, and on the other hand the ‘Keffiyeh,’ the emblem of Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Mickey Mouse, Disney’s cartoon character created in 1928, was a mischievous antihero in Disney’s first movies, and Chairman Yasser Arafat, born in 1929 symbolising the Palestinian uprising, was a very controversial figure among the Israeli public.

In the early 1990′s Yasser Arafat together with Israel Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, while secretly negotiating towards the 1993 Oslo Accords, were present in the medias. I think that unconsciously that was the reason why I did this work.

I created a special stamp with Mickey’s head which I then stamped 198 times on the Keffiyeh using the colours of the Palestinian flag, green and red.

The result was a strange kind of Pop artefact.

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11. “Israeli Keffiyeh”

After Israel’s 1948 initial conquest of Palestine (completed in 1967), Palestinian culture has continuously been appropriated by Israelis. Israel has stamped its mark on everything from Jaffa oranges, Hummas and Falafel, Kanafa, the traditional dabka dance, and now the unmistakably Palestinian keffiyeh has been “Israelized”:

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The individual behind the design explained: 

What prompted me to design a Jewish version of a keffiyeh/scarf is the fact that a traditional Arab head wear has become not only a symbol of injustice, but a fashion statement. In New York city one can not go anywhere with out seeing people on the street wearing them, they ranging from different ethnicity, color and background. The first thing that came to mind was:

Do they know what they are wearing?
Are they making a statement?
If so what is it? Or are they simply following fashion trends?

It is my sincere hope that this scarf would serve as a symbol of Jewish pride, unity of purpose, galvanizing Jews from different backgrounds and perhaps become as an iconic symbol of our future!!

These Israeli/Jewish keffiyehs are being marketed as “Semitic Keffiyeh”.

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These “Semitic Keffiyehs” are being sold at an online shop called Semitic Swag, which, incidentally, sells clothing with the religious symbols and ancient language of only one Semitic people.

We imagine the use of the word Semitic instead of Arab or Jewish is an effort to erase the association with Palestinians. Arabs and Jews are both Semites, the reasoning may go, so the keffiyeh (despite bearing an Arabic name) isn’t really Arab but generically Semitic. It’s no more Palestinian than Israeli. Right! 

Except not. This is not an effort to universalize the keffiyeh. Instead, it is the powerful appropriating something made by an oppressed people, re-branding it so they become secondary in the story, and then selling it to a mainstream audience in a way that does not recognize the original creators or serve their interests. To further make the point, Semitic Shag advertises their “Semitic Keffiyehs” as Israeli in their Google advertisement:

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It’s as if Israeli have appointed themselves the heirs of Palestinian culture while working to displace the keepers of that culture.

12. Contemporary Israeli Art

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An alternative use of the keffiyeh by an Israeli that may not be exploitative is the work of contemporary artist Tsibi Geva. The Tel Aviv Museum of Art‘s description reads:

The keffiyeh – the traditional Arab headdress that has become a potent political icon in the Middle East – is a central motif in Tsibi Geva’s work, […] 

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Geva’s choice of the keffiyeh motif is linked to the transformation of this image over the years from a symbol of the Arab tilling his land, which was adopted by the “New Jew” who made the desert flourish [sic] in Israel’s pre-independence days, to the unmistakable symbol of a Palestinian society struggling for independence.

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In an Israeli context, Keffiyeh 33 is a psychological snapshot of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict; in a more universal context, this image confronts the viewer with an enticing, menacing form of beauty. Another reading of this work may also interpret it as a critical metaphor for political and cultural colonialism, which appropriates not only territories but also images. 

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. . .

It would be nice to think that many Westerners who sport the keffiyeh do so out of solidarity with Palestinians. But, alas, more often than not the keffiyeh is more hipster chic with a superficial nod to Global South solidarity than any genuine and learned support for the Palestinian struggle and self-determination.

By Khelil Bouarrouj.

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