Cultural appropriation has become so endemic in fashion, particularly the runway, that a conversation simply isn’t cutting it. Although that’s absolutely essential for obvious reasons, it’s time for folks of all ethnicities, gender, & age to take initiative instead of just inclusion. Why? Because designers like Marc Jacobs aren’t standing up and asking themselves what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
— Maya Fleming (@mayanfleming) September 14, 2017
His latest SS18 show sparked outrage amongst people who believed his use of headscarves was, in fact, in line with cultural appropriation.
So, why is there outrage over the runway?
I write that headline as a white person. The MEFeater team 100% sees the issue at hand and what’s going on but let’s be very aware that there are people out there shrugging their shoulders. They’re reading this saying ‘it’s just a headscarf, what’s the problem?’ and ‘what meaning is there to such a furor?’ Cultural appropriation is defined as, at its most basic level, robbery by a high-classed group from a minority; stealing one’s culture for the others gain, in other words. For his SS17 runway show, Marc Jacobs had the designated hair stylist, Guido Palau, sport largely white models with pastel-colored dreadlocks. This caused great disgust and if we go by the origins of dreadlocks & headwraps and understand why then rightly so.
As written by Helen Bradley Griebel of the University of Pennsylvania (which can be read in full here): ”THE AFRICAN AMERICAN headwrap holds a distinctive position in the history of American dress both for its longevity and for its potent significations. It endured the travails of slavery and never passed out of fashion. The headwrap represents far more than a piece of fabric wound around the head…Worn by millions of enslaved women and their descendants has served as a uniform of communal identity; but at its most elaborate, the African American woman’s headwrap has functioned as a ‘uniform of rebellion’ signifying absolute resistance to loss of self-definition.”
The significance of the headwrap also plays an integral role in many other cultures. The African/American culture is taken as an example here.
Solving fashion’s cultural appropriation
The fashion industry has a massive responsibility. What one does as a designer with their free reign matters but the consequences matter more here; it’s THE matter of importance. Unfortunately, a mixed reaction has emerged to this latest fashion blunder but there’s significance when there are people that call out cultural appropriation and that’s the point. Designers need to listen more. Marc Jacobs issued an apology last year for his use of dreadlocks but failed to learn his lesson it seems. Let’s be honest, there may not be a solution to solving what a designer does and doesn’t do with their collections. This issue is about respect and if we can recognize a failure to adhere to basic values and principles and in turn, highlight why the use of historic symbols are inappropriate, then we’ve all contributed to a resolution.