Culture appropriation has recently been a hot topic since everyone is doing it, especially within the fashion industry showing culture through fashion. In order to be praised for the latest trends and styles, designers often look in every direction for inspiration, even if it means stealing designs from cultures and claiming it as their own original ideas. Brands can further exploit cultures by selling these unoriginal designs for extortionate prices and therefore benefitting from a huge profit.
Read through to rediscover which designers and retailers have appropriated cultures through their designs over the years.
Stella McCartney was criticized for using Ankara prints in her Spring 2018 collection. It’s evident to see why as Ankara prints are strongly associated with African culture even though the wax printing method was created by the Dutch. Using culture through fashion can be great and inspiring- but it must be done correctly.
The word Ankara is not used in the descriptions, instead we read: ‘fabric which is loved by African women’. However, It is clear that these prints aren’t just loved by African women, they are a part of African culture. To make matters worse, this dress in particular is being sold for an hefty price, even though these prints can be bought for a lot cheaper via websites such as The African Fabric Shop.
Stella McCartney finds it difficult to give credit where it’s due and feels that collaborating with Vlisco (a company who specialises in African fabrics) is enough to avoid culture appropriation. However, labelling the dress as ‘Jeny off the shoulder cotton dress ‘and using a white model to showcase the look suggests otherwise.
For their AW18, Gucci irresponsibly sent a white model down the runway wearing a blue turban. A turban is not a fashion accessory or latest trend but a religious garment which honours spirituality and preserves the Sikh identity of uncut hair. This clearly shows that Gucci did not intend to embrace the Sikh culture but neglect its religious purpose, instead by describing the turban as a ‘scarf to be worn on the head’. Again showing culture through fashion, but in an irresponsible way. What was once a religious head wrap has turned into a ‘trend’ being sold. Yet again a well-known designer is profiting off a culture which is not theirs.
Versace, Gucci (again!), Marine Serre etc.
It is known by many that Hijabs are a religious head covering worn by Muslim women as a symbol of modesty. Various styles of tight-fitting head coverings resembling hijabs were seen everywhere at the AW18 shows. Regardless of the strong resemblance, designers did nought to acknowledge the religious symbolism as the coverings were known as ‘hoods and scarves’. By turning this into a fashion trend, the cultural meaning behind hijabs are ignored. The use of white models suggests the designers were doing their best to shy away from Islamic culture as much as possible whilst still retaining appraisal for the design.
Zara may have also tried to sneak in cultural appropriation with their earring designs. The use of natural materials such as stones and wood and multi-coloured beading reflects a style that is beyond western culture and most likely resonates with an African culture. Zara clearly acknowledge where their inspiration derives from by using black models to showcase two different pairs of earrings yet their description of the earrings suggests that they have no intention of praising the African culture whatsoever. The necklace below is described as ‘necklace featuring contrasting resin pieces’.
In his SS17 show, Marc Jacobs decided to dress his white models, including Kendall Jenner, in a full head of colourful dreadlocks. Out of 52 looks at the show, less than 10 models were of colour. As expected, twitter users stressed that Marc Jacobs should have used models of colour or not used dreads as a ‘trend’ and this is totally agreeable. Portraying culture through fashion, again is great; but it should be done correctly. It’s a shame that his response to this outrage was that he does not ‘see colour or race, he sees people and was sorry to read that people are so narrow-minded’. If this doesn’t smell like dismissal of culture appropriation I don’t know what does.
In 2015, Valentino presented a show that was inspired by ‘Wild Africa’ with a bongo drums soundtrack, dreadlocks and cornrows hairstyles, beaded accessories and African prints. Yet unfortunately all of the models were…white. With the lack of African models to represent Valentino’s vision, he indefinitely screams cultural appropriation.
You may remember the time Nasty Gal were selling a durag for $50 (£37) back in 2014 even though durags can be bought from various hair shops for as little as £2. The durag is a head covering which helps to keep cornrows and various other hairstyles intact; this is solely intended for black people as these hairstyles which originated within this culture. The durag is definitely not intended for fashion purposes yet Nasty Gal thought otherwise.
Although this occurred a while back, celebrities like Kylie Jenner don’t seem to understand the concept of culture appropriation as she was seen wearing a white durag at NYFW in 2016. Similarly, this year Kim Kardashian labelled her cornrows as ‘Bo Derick braids’ instead of acknowledging his original cultural name. This is an example of how culture appropriation existed back then and has gotten worse ever since.
It is noticeable that African and black cultures in particular are being continuously exploited irrespective of the backlash they receive from it. From 2014 all the way to 2018, there does not seem to be an explicit change. However, we’d like to believe that retailers and designers can attempt put an end to culture appropriation by either giving credit to cultural designs or not using them full stop.