The Endless Amount of Culture Appropiation Seen In Fashion
After a long joint reign of 17 years with Pierpaolo Piccioli, page Maria Grazia Chiuri stepped down and made history as the first-ever female creative director of Dior. Chiuri may have made progression in this factor yet declined in her show. The talk of her first collection was the memorable and political t-shirt with a “We Should All Be Feminists” motif. Out of 64 looks, find only 9 of the models were that of colour. Combined with the past controversy at Valentino and her vocal standpoint on female equality, her failure to include more than 10 women of colour, is ironic. Due to the lacklustre of commentary on such issues, with many claiming, “Oh fashion, when will you learn”, clearly states that the matter of diversity and cultural appropriation has become so common placed within the industry that its almost swept under the rug.
Rarely is it that a brand can go past the point of cultural appropriation and find themselves in the realm of racial insensitivity, however, this was the exact case for the SS16 collection from Valentino. As images began to emerge online, Valentino official accounts, on multiple social media platforms, began to describe the collection as “Tribal” and “Primitive”, the brand instantaneously came under fire. Showcasing women in dreadlocks and african inspired dress, only to include 9 models of colour out of the extensive 90 looks that were shown. It was a widespread question amongst many, at how Valentino, claimed to pay homage to African culture, yet did so with a predominantly white cast. It is a prime example of what has been occurring for centuries and unfortunately will continue to in the future, and that is taking credit for someone else’s culture and in the process denying the creators involvement, the definition of cultural appropriation.
After images of Marc Jacobs SS17 collection surfaced online, Jacobs immediately faced cultural appropriation claims. As dreadlocks are solely affiliated with black culture, therefore due to Jacobs only using 8 out of 52 models, being black the controversy arose instantly. Jacobs was quick to retaliate to claims of racism stating he doesn’t see colour, a remark also made by Demna Gvaslia for Vetements. Not only failing to defend his creativity Jacobs caused, even more, uproar with his statement that when women of colour straighten their hair, it isn’t called cultural appropriation, failing to recognise how ethnic hair has been and will continue to be described as “unprofessional” and “unclean” within many hierarchy workplaces.
Demna Gvaslia has stated that Vetements is essentially a well executed mix of goth and hip hop, which is instantly recognisable with the exaggerated silhouettes and proportions and the attitude and body language of the models included. Claiming that “It is the attitude of those girls”, is the tipping point on who walks for Vetements, Gvaslia has appointed himself a difficult task of explaining how no coloured model posses this attitude he speaks so highly of, yet Gvaslia nor the brands have faced any backlash. No one has boycotted the brand, or at least done so effectively as to change the mind of Gvaslia, rather celebrated his forward vision and dismissed his backwards outlook on diversity. Ultimately the discussion of diversity and cultural appropriation, is only promoting these collections further, granted in a negative light, yet the backlash has been so minimal that the possibility of “failure of inclusion” being a PR stunt, has become reality.
With an influx of white-washed shows and lack of cultural recognition and representation, is it all a ploy to get us talking. With Chiuri being more than just a one-time offender and Gvaslia assuming the politically correct rule, applies to neither Vetements nor Balenciaga, has the industry been set on a decline. Debatable amongst many levels, the seemingly correct answer is yes. All down to one’s outlook and perception of the industry, the 80% figure of white models in fashion week, may not seem as shocking as many can challenge the industry’s failure to represent and include diverse body shapes in the past, neglecting to realise that the issue goes deeper. Taking inspiration is one thing, but constructing an entire collection based upon one culture or group and ignoring to recognise its origins is a form of discrimination amongst its creators. Picking and choosing the features that appeal, such as dreadlocks and plethoric lips, only to place them upon an ostensibly white canvas, reinforces the ideology that has been misconstrued and taught for generations, that white is superior. It has not been direct in approach, however, the inability of the academic system to include influencers, leaders or even philanthropists of any minority within education have proved it. So is the lack of diversity within fashion really just PR? Or does the predicament delve into the underlying issues of the evident exploitation of coloured people?
Written by Imaan Chaudhry
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