21 Mar Appreciation or Appropriation?
In today’s world we can all agree that there is no such thing as an “original idea”.
With the recent departures of Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz still looming in the air, it is a constant reminder to us of the pressure to create collections, that should not just be critically acclaimed but also commercially successful. The ability to receive success within collections, the designer must be able to grasp inspiration beyond the ‘immediate world’, however this in some cases can lead to them indirectly causing offensive.
Complete with cornrows and bone necklaces, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli presented their Spring/ Summer 2016 collection for Valentino attempting to engross their audience in an aesthetic beyond the norm, exploring the influence of increased migration (mainly from countries in Africa) from a cross cultural perspective. Though many critics regarded the collection as beautiful, others pointed out the lack of coloured models on the runway. Though the two creative directors had a good intention, the execution of the unveiling was deemed as offensive with the theme being “wild, tribal Africa” yet out of the 90 looks only 9 models were actually of colour. The Telegraph responded to the topic of cultural appropriation at the Valentino show, by questioning the Saint Laurent Spring/ Summer 2016 Collection, “cultural appropriation of Glasto- glamping” , by putting models in welly boots. However, I think Hedi Slimane putting his models in a pair of Wellington boots is better than sectioning 1.111 billion people into a stereotypical culture within a 90 look collection.
Amandla Stenberg took to YouTube to talk about the black history of hair, from corn rows to twists, and why it is problematic for white men and women to adopt this culture. The overall message of her video is “Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalisation or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high fashioned, cool or funny, when the privileged take it for themselves.”
Vogue Italia received a tsunami of backlash after Gigi Hadid’s November issue cover was released. The model was seen wearing a variety of candy coloured afro wigs, predominantly rocked by women of colour. The model was seen wearing a variety of candy coloured afro wigs, predominantly rocked by women of colour.
The issue was, why not just use a black model? To rub more salt in the wound, every picture for the editorial had the same facial expression highlighting the lack of experience. It’s not hard to call up Lineisy Montero, Imaan Hammam or Jourdan Dunn, models with a portfolio triple the size of Gigi’s to do a campaign feauturing afros.
The four figure sandal by Dolce & Gabbana, part of their Spring/ Summer 2016 Collection, caused major controversy as they named it the “slave sandal”, now renamed as “Decorative flat sandal”. The brand has been involved in multiple controversies over the years, however a couple of months ago they created a hijab and abaya collection for Muslim women, proving that one can use culture and religion within collections without it appropriating culture that it drew inspiration from. Furthermore, French brand Hermés collaborated with Sunita Kumar to design a range of saris; the brand wanted to learn about the Bangladeshi philosophy, as well as respectfully engaging to create clothes targeted at their culture. It is imperative that designers acknowledge that traditional clothing is more than what meets the eye, but about their history, identity and language.
Fashion has a way of whitewashing cultures. This action constantly holds us back from moving forward, and gives women of colour a subconscious message every time they open a magazine or watch a fashion show that they are second best. Fashion does not know how much power it actually has. It has a major influence on all of us, more specifically the fashion editors and designers must shake themselves out of this slumber of ignorance when it comes to cultural appropriation and race. Before we do something, we must all ask ourselves:
Is it diversity in action or just disrespect?