I’m sorry, Nami. I have done you a grave disservice.
I was sorry to hear that you wish to withdraw from your position as a Competition judge, and I’m sorry for my inappropriate public comments in December. I did not intend to insult you, Maayankraj Singh, or anyone else for their objection to the peacock dress project. I acknowledge that for POC in the costuming community this project had been a source of pain for years, and that POC certainly did not cause the issue with the dress themselves. That was not what I intended to say, and I deeply regret that it came across that way.
I would like to take this opportunity to address not just the December blog post, but the whole subject of the peacock dress project. I apologise for my naivete and my blindness in both taking the project on in 2011 and going at it so insensitively for so long, but I also want to own up and apologise for some specifics too.
A couple of weeks ago I revisited the conversation Nami and I had just before she released her video “The Peacock Dress Is Problematic: Don’t Make It” in September 2021.
We had spoken about the project in the FR Diversity Panel, and I had pledged to make a video for the end of September that would show clearly and publicly that I had listened to feedback, and that things were changing.
I invited her to appear in that video, and she asked in reply for me to re-confirm exactly where this project was going before consenting to be associated with it. It was a perfectly reasonable request.
But I replied in a defensive and non-committal way. I apologise for that. In that moment you needed certainty and reassurance from me, Nami, and I did not provide it.
I missed that detail completely until last month. I was nervous about how to honour all of the recommendations in the room. I very much wanted to find a way to atone with everyone. I didn’t have all the answers yet and I was afraid that you were asking me to follow your advice exclusively, so I hedged and got defensive.
All I had to do was confirm that the dress was not going to be recreated as planned (which, genuinely, was true by that point). But I think you may have heard “I haven’t decided whether to take the panel’s advice and change yet.” And I realise now how that must have felt for you.
For a year and a half I have been angry with you. It didn’t make any sense to me that you would give me your advice and then release a video before the deadline to act on that advice. I made up all sorts of stories about what that meant, and that coloured my perspective on everything that came afterwards.
But when I saw how our conversation and my defensive email must have impacted you, everything fell into place.
I also want to apologise for asking the Diversity Panel to sign a document that came across as an NDA. This was a code of conduct intended to make the Panel a safe space, both for POC who were involved and for my team, which included people with disabilities. It was written up into a professional document, and I can see that in the process the tone and intention of the document changed in a way I did not intend. I apologise that it came across as forbidding and not reassuring, and I take responsibility for missing that.
I apologise to the community as a whole for not speaking up when Nami’s video went public. I believe I was right to sit down, shut up, and let other people speak at first, but there was a point at which I could have shown the leadership that this community deserves by making an unequivocal statement. I failed to do this. I want to take responsibility for my part in letting it go as far as it did, especially including the death threat received by Maayankraj Singh. I have apologised to you in private in the past, Maayankraj, but I believe you also deserve a public apology. By that time, in all honesty, I had my head so far up my own ass that I wasn’t seeing anything for what it was.
Ten years ago I walked right into the middle of my own unconscious bias and stayed there for a decade. It embarrasses me to think of this now. Until recently it was true that I only cared about a pretty dress, and I readily admit that there is still racism in me. I don’t believe that combatting it in myself is a “one and done”; it is a continuing practice for me to work on.
Nami’s video did not reflect where I felt I was at that stage in my learning, just as we were making real progress in the diversity panel and I was ready to do something about it. I have let myself feel resentful about that for a long time, instead of looking more closely at what might actually have happened. This was a disservice to Nami and to POC in this community as a whole.
I’m sorry to have let this go on so long. All the videos about the project have been taken down now, to show more clearly that the project will not be revived.
Nami, I deeply appreciate you initially agreeing to be part of the 2023 competition, and I am sincerely sorry that I made you feel unsafe and unable to continue to do so. I have a genuine wish for healing and reconciliation for all of us. I pledge to do better, and I welcome constructive feedback from both you and the community as we move forward.
Very touchy subject for many.
I personally took the project as a celebration of the skills of past sewists and an acknowledgment of their great abilities which we often blindly tend to assume are less than our own.
I never looked at the symbolism of the dress in the time that it was made. That part I skipped over because that was then and this is now.
Wilful blindness maybe. Ignorance of the times more to the point.
I firmly believe we need to acknowledge the past and the past wrongs done to others. Learn and grow and not repeat those same mistakes. Lord knows we can make plenty of our own that hopefully future generations will say oh that was not right and learn and grow from mistakes we made.
But … in the wholesale fashion these days to redress the errors of the past we are sweeping under the carpet the good things that were done. To come back to the point, the skills and dedication of those who designed and made the dress.
Using fashion to fly the flag and make a point is not new. It still happens today… and in all parts of the globe and within all spheres of influence. And can have good commercial outcomes for some.
Misunderstandings through hurt feelings and perceptions must not be allowed to continue or fester. It spoils us for the future.
Mistakes owned up to, apologies issued, let’s move on not hold grudges and grow together as a global community of sewists joined by our love of fabric needle and thread and our creativity.
Hugs to all
Personally, I am glad this is being talked about again. It kind of felt like the elephant in the room to me, outside of the FR community as I am, an appreciative observer of the current competition and the videos around it. I believe there is both a spiritual and a political dimension to everything we do, and the Peacock Dress was a rich environment for uncomfortable growth, which I believe can only happen when people communicate openly and continue to interact with each other to mediate differences. I probably learned more about class and race in the British Empire from that series of videos on YouTube than I ever did in my US schooling. What does it take to make this right? What does it take to get where we need to be?
I bow in deep respect for you Cathy, I think you have made the whole community grow through this apology. Well spoken.
Now This is what an apology looks like. Thank you, Cathy. It can take time for an idea to take root and grow, and there is no timeline. But you put effort into going back and reviewing your own behavior with a critical eye. You are open about your shortcomings, and have made concrete steps to improve.
Thank you for the education.
I’m sorry that a dress could be the start of really hurt feelings and how carefully we must tread because of past grievances and abuse. I pray that in future dealings we can all appreciate the beauty and diversity of the world of fine historical garments, learning to understand their true meanings thru more discourse as well as their aesthetic and technical beauty. Our world has been thru such ugly times and it is up to us to make ourselves aware and to set forward to move with love and grace for our fellow humans regardless of past prejudices and abuses. I wish for all of us to be united in our love of beauty and talent.
I admire your honesty and deep soul searching. I hope you don’t flagellate yourself anymore. Yes, it’s very hard not to be racist when we’re white. I’m very lucky to have a beautiful indigenous friend, who I sometimes remember to ask her opinions. She always surprises me and we are still free to disagree.
So, I hope you can be forgiven by others and forgive the yourself. You are impressive the way you have itemized everything and tried to make changes, and your sincerity.
Well written, Cathy. And heartfelt.
Respect to you Cathy for being open about your mistakes and sharing the bumpy journey towards doing better. It can be so hard, and so complex to know how to navigate something like this with grace when our own feelings of fear and anxiety get thrown into the mix, especially on a project you had long attachments to. Knowing what the right thing to do is is not always an easy or cut and dried matter as we all have different perspectives and are at different points in our journey to understanding. I know you regret the hurt that has been caused. That pain and the discussion around it has been a massive learning experience for many of us, myself included, and now we know better, we will do better going forwards.
It’s refreshing to see someone who in my life is a high profile person who can admit to era and publicly apologise. Wow, Cathy, you’ve always had my high regard and respect. Now you have it in SPADES.
This will open the door for more dialogue in the ‘now’ post Covid.
I’m also sorry for previous racism in my life and it hurts me greatly to see it evident in history.
Kathy, I’m so impressed and thankful for this. I really thought you were going to move forward and “let the past lie” but you have addressed a messy conversation that left you and a lot of people with hurt feelings. Thank you for continuing to process and work towards the future that all of us need.
You have an amazing ability to look beyond the visual impact of a dress/coat to how it is made. Don’t apologize for that insight. I am not qualified to judge anyone who works at your level and do not feel insulted or hurt in any way. Previous racism, xenophobia and anti-semitism were a fact. Let’s verbalize this and move forward. We are trying to recognize these past abuses in our language & actions, rectify them and become better people as we deal with others. However, we cannot become trapped in the fear that we might/will say something inadvertently. Open and honest dialogue has to be the path forward.
I must admit that I too was most enraptured by the concept of her reproduction of the gown. As a designer sometimes you see a magnificent gown and it is easy in that moment to forget the thousands of stitches and hundred of hands and what they had to do and maybe sacrifice to complete that confection.
Been there, done that.
As people who value the history of things, we can also get lost in the how and why, but not the intrinsic cost. If aspects of the history of this gown were not so documented, we would not have come to know all about the situation happening a world away as it pertained here. These are things not readily found in standard history or costuming books and require a far more in depth dig.
My personal disappointment in the cancellation was definitely erased by the more complete understanding of circumstances.
I may have said this all badly, but at the very least and maybe for the wrong reasons, we all learned more of what we need to know and understand.
I never saw the project as anything other than an appreciation of the workmanship that was overlooked for far too long. I thought they were finally getting the recognition that they deserved to get when the original dress was made. I was upset that others were seeing it in a different light. I’m not a person of color, but I do recognize (now) how upset they were.
Thank you for your honesty and recognition of issues you are working on. I enjoy watching your process and look forward to hearing more.
If you are a white person and thinking about commenting, please, perhaps, refrain. This apology is not for us, should not be about us, and we should let the people of color who are actively involved respond (if any choose to respond at all).
We must all learn, and do better. Try better.
I am sorry to see so much upheaval caused by one dress from the past, this dress could have helped highlight how things were done in the past and to help repair the damage done then for the future.
I come from a very mixed race family so I have grown up looking at both sides of the coin in all things that I do.
My GrandMother taught me to live with the past but never repeat the past, learn from the past and improve on it where you can, she lost a lot of her family during the war because of who and what they were.
My Dad was born of two cultures and belonged to neither of them because of it, the Indians called him British and British called him an Indian as a young man growing up he did not belong anywhere, but for all of that he never let either side to destroy him now 50 plus years latter the newer generation do not see what their grandparents did they just see my Dad as being one very lucky man to have a foot in both camps.
I loved the Peacock Dress because it was a chance to see into the Indian culture on how they created the embroidery work and it was a chance to show how talented they were in creating such beauty.
Even today I love watching documentaries on the so many of the items they make and how they are made, even when it shows the really ugly side of what goes on there.
It is just a shame it created so much controversy.