The Portuguese State is set to take legal action against US fashion brand Tory Burch for “abusive appropriation” of camisola poveira. The garment in question is a traditional sweater worn by fishermen in Póvoa de Varzim since the 1800s. Portugal’s Ministry of Culture has stated that it will “do everything in its power [to ensure that Burch does not] fail in her responsibilities.”
Named the 88th “most powerful woman in the world” by Forbes in 2020, Burch included the €695 (£600) sweater in her 2021 collection. According to Lilly Allen from StyleSpring.co.uk, the item was originally listed on the website as inspired by Mexico Baja. “The wool knit sweater, which was even embroidered with the Portuguese coat of arms, has since been removed from Burch’s website,” she says.
Ricardo Silva, president of the parish union of Póvoa de Varzim, Ricardo Silva, expressed his disapproval of Tory Burch’s latest creation in a Facebook post: “Camisolas poveiras were made by sailors and their families, who would knit plain sweaters and add motifs with cross-stitch or duplicate stitches in red and black yarn. Crests and nautical motifs are the most common subject matter, but many also feature sigla, a local symbol code or form of Porto-writing.”
“Tory's listing has been updated to simply 'Sweater tunic' describing it as 'a symmetrical geometric intarsia design' that 'pairs well with elastic-waist pants.' Good thing that outfit is comfortable because the discussion she needs to have about giving credit where credit is due probably won't be,” the post continues.
The fashion watchdog group Diet Prada shared photos of the traditional Portuguese garment alongside Tory Burch's design. The group condemned Tory Burch, saying: “Global glam mega mogul Tory Burch has expanded her range from stretchy ballet flats to housewares, and everything in between. When she's not busy colonizing the mall, her design team is apparently out garnering inspo from the rest of the globe.”
The designer has since apologized for the mistake: “We sincerely apologize to the people of Portugal – it was brought to our attention that we misattributed a Spring 2021 sweater as Baja-inspired. It was a misstep that we did not reference the beautiful, fisherman’s sweaters as represented by the City of Póvoa de Varzim.”
“We are correcting this error immediately and will note and honour that this sweater was inspired by Portuguese traditions. We want to further acknowledge this important tradition and are working with the municipality of Póvoa de Varzim on how best we can support local artisans. Tory Burch stands for inclusivity and celebrating diverse cultures, and we will strive to do better in the future.”
For now, the legal action remains in the works. Minister Graça Fonseca has “taken the initiative to solicit the identification of judicial and extrajudicial channels at the disposal of the Portuguese State to defend the camisola poveira as Portuguese cultural heritage,” says a statement released by the Ministry of Culture. The Government is making “every effort to value, protect, preserve and safeguard immaterial Portuguese heritage.”