Monday, July 14, 2008

Not Just Black and White

The Kulprit

A familiar swirl of ethnic, betasseled, chainlink-patterned cotton fabric punctuates the racks here in the men's department. The hues evoke a Sunday paper -- black and white dominates, with an occasional peek of comic-book color. We're in the basement of KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens), the edifice billed as Europe's largest department store. This retail behemoth is situated in the Ku-Damm shopping district, the capitalist heart of Berlin and de facto Times Square of a necessarily de-centralized city.

If the foulard is the national accessory, the keffiyeh in particular is enjoying a precipitous resurgence as the scarf's most popular manifestation, appearing en masse on the necks of savvy shoppers in this wealthy Bezirk, or borough, to employ another New York analogy. While the predominant colors are black and white, occasional billows of green and red are either reflections of the disparate regions of the Middle East whence they came, or simply a concession to their mass appeal. Paired with everything from Adidas (the national sneaker), t-shirts and jeans, to Members Only jackets and little black cocktail dresses, the keffiyeh has become de rigeur for self-respecting fashionistas and fussball fans from Charlottenburg to Wedding. KaDeWe carries a staggering array of the newly fashionable head/neckwear, which trend-spotting designers are now printing onto more expensive materials like silk, varying the original pattern dramatically, further attenuating the garment's PLO connotations .

One would never guess that across the Pond, a brouhaha had been brewing over ten-minute recipe doyenne Rachel Ray's donning of this alleged Palestinian "scarf of terror" in a subsequently yanked Dunkin Donuts commercial. Certainly this "scandal" fell on deaf ears here in PC-immune, live-and-let live Berlin. Various jingoistic blogs have come out in praise of Dunkin Donuts for its removal of Ray's raiment and staunch support of immigration policies. This tempest in a Dixie cup would be considered at best a non-issue in Deutschland, as the middle-missing dessert shops are hugely popular here, with twenty six in Berlin alone. While this brand of conservative-caving may go over in the U.S., fashion is a resolutely non-partisan enterprise, and here in Germany a boycott would surely follow.

It is a telling irony that Ray's scarf was simply the apolitical fashion choice of her stylist. In the end it was but a black and white paisley pattern, arranged in such a fashion as to raise the eyebrows of right-wing hawks, who reacted as if Ray had appeared in Yasser Arafat drag declaring an out-and-out jihad. One perturbed blogger risibly referred to the beleaguered scarves as "Hate couture". Interesting that no one called out rapper Kanye West when he sported a much more stylish, posh permutation of the guilty Schal on a recent Spin cover. (Perhaps Ray's stylist should have chosen something less homely.) If their popularity on Berlin streets is any indication, the political symbolism behind the scarves has become, like the ubiquitous Che Guevara t-shirts of recent past, as dilute as the ersatz mochaccino concoctions that Ray shills.

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