Beri Shalmashi, one of Cinco’s million-plus social media followers, was moved to contact the designer to set him straight.

Instagram furor as fashion designer calls Kurdish pants ‘Persian’

Screenshot taken from Michael Cinco’s Instagram profile featuring Kurdish-style pants modeled at Arab Fashion Week, Dubai. Photo: Michael Cinco / Instagram




ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Nothing gets social media abuzz like causing cultural offense – even if it’s an entirely innocent mistake. Filipino designer Michael Cinco accidently outraged the Kurdish Twittersphere this week when he called one of his Kurdish-inspired trouser designs “Persian”.

Keep your pants on, you might say – but Kurds are tremendously proud of their national dress and certainly resent it being lumped in with Iran’s Persian culture.

Cinco made the cultural faux pas is a social media post showing off some of his new designs appearing at Arab Fashion Week in Dubai.

Beri Shalmashi, one of Cinco’s million-plus social media followers, was moved to contact the designer to set him straight.

And Cinco replied – apologizing for the mistake, insisting he meant no offence. He even deleted his initial post and then later reposted to say the pants were “KURDISH-inspired”.

“Thank you [for] enlightening and correcting my inspiration,” Cinco replied. “I just love and [I am] so inspired by your culture. YOU are amazing. THANK YOU.”

Rudaw English reached out to Shalmashi to ask why the misidentification of the Kurdish-style pants – known as ‘Sharwal’ – had cause such outcry.

“Even in this time and age we as Kurds struggle to preserve our identity in arts and culture,” said Shalmashi. “It’s what comes with the baggage of a stateless nation and not always acknowledging the value of our own, often oppressed, background.”

“When I saw Michael Cinco’s design on Instagram – where over a million people follow his work – it was beautiful to see an outfit completely compiled of elements that I know from very old school, yet continuously worn, typical Kurdish pieces: the kawa (coat), the sharwal (pants), even the choice of white shoes hinting to the handmade kalash you see in Kurdistan’s Hawraman area,” she said.

“Even the color and fabric of the sharwal reminded me of what working class Kurdish men – and sometimes women – wear,” Shalmashi added.

“To Kurds, this is what hard working people wear, people who take pride in their traditional attire.

“In the context of Iran, it’s the pants, especially in this greyish color, too, you see on photos of executed men, it makes a statement, that it’s often Kurds that are hung.

“It’s what my mom and her friends wore in the ‘80s in their activism against the Islamic regime. It’s what traditional Peshmerga wear. It’s what many who take pride in our history wear. It’s the pants the kolbars wear, the couriers who carry goods on their back, between Iran and Iraq, trying to make a living, while they get shot by Iranian guards, guards from the country they are citizens of,” Shalmashi explained.

“In others words: it hurts to see an outfit that we as Kurds take pride in, but that is often looked down upon, sometimes ridiculed amongst Persians, being labeled as theirs when it’s reinvented as high fashion.

“By doing so, on purpose or by accident, one contributes to the cultural disappearance of an identity that is already struggling to exist.”