[2021 Fashion News] 4+ Real-Life Examples Of Cultural Appropriation In Fashion That You May Not Aware
On January 18, fashion watchdog Diet Prada posted on Instagram that Comme de Garcons was putting white models in cornrow wigs. Diet Prada was quick to air its criticism: “Back in 2018, [Comme des Garçons] cast their first black models in over 20 years for their FW18 show, following critical comments from netizens who noticed they hadn’t featured a black model since 1994. Last night, the avant-garde Japanese label seemed to have taken a step back”.
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Back in 2018, @commedesgarcons cast their first black models in over 20 years for their FW18 show, following critical comments from netizens who noticed they hadn’t featured a black model since 1994. Last night, the avant-garde Japanese label seemed to have taken a step back with their men’s show, this time putting white models in cornrow wigs. Some black models also sported the wigs, while some wore their own hair. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Vogue Runway called them “odd”, which is a curious statement in itself, considering the stigma and discrimination of natural hair and hairstyles that embrace cultural identity (braids, Bantu knots, twists and locs). It was only in 2015 that Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic said that Zendaya’s dreadlocks at the Oscars made her look like she “smells like patchouli oil or weed”. Suffice it to say, CDG’s decision to appropriate the braided hairstyles for white models is indeed problematic. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ On the positive side, more states are legislating to ban race-based hair discrimination, following New York and California’s decision in 2019. Dieters, what do you think about the wigs at Comme des Garçons? The look on the model’s faces say it all, don’t you think? • #commedesgarcons #culturalappropriation #pfw #pfwm #pfw20 #cornrows #wig #wigs #caucasity #commepocracy #reikawakubo #adrianjoffe #discrimination #hair #naturalhairstyles #locs #locstyles #blackhair #blackhairstyles #naturallycurly #protectivestyles #goodhair #model #malemodel #avantgarde #cdgconverse #cdgplay #cdg #vogue #dietprada
The fashion industry is no stranger to accusations of cultural appropriation, while Instagram and Twitter went into an absolute frenzy, supermodel Adwoa Aboah asked simply: “Are we surprised?”
There is a subconscious and, yet, very much conscious ignorance to what exactly cultural appropriation is – Marc Jacobs practically gave Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo her stripes, as Instagram users caught sight of the three hearts posted by Jacobs among the cornrow criticism.
Simply put, cultural appropriation is the inappropriate adoption of customs, practices and ideas of other cultures – what exactly is understood as inappropriate remains unclear, allowing designers to excuse themselves from pointed fingers on the basis of unawareness.
Dr Serkan Delice, a lecturer in cultural and historical studies at the London College of Fashion says, cultural appropriation, “happens when there are power inequalities between different cultures”.
“We are still living in a world where white people and institutions are much more powerful than black and brown people,” he continues.
One question that often crops up around cultural appropriation is, what about black women who straighten their hair or wear weaves? Marc Jacobs famously made his 2016 apology redundant with such racial insensitivity: “Funny how you don’t criticise women of colour for straightening their hair, ” he asked.
These instances of racial ignorance assume that race relations exist on a level-playing field – as though racism no longer exists. More often a marginalised culture will adopt aspects of the stronger in order to fit in, not stand out.
Photographer and Shades of Noir content creator, Favour Jonathan, says, “You’re ignoring the reality that people of colour disconnect from their Afro hair as a response to racism or the anxieties that cease to heal after the policing of our hair, which is still happening today. Until a brother shaves off his locs he won’t get a job or a black women with children to feed, needs a job so her locs have to go, her history, her culture has to go.”
“It wouldn’t be cultural appropriation because cultural appropriation implies that a more powerful culture is using another less powerful culture,” says Delice.
The racial ignorance that disconnects black culture and politics from black hair is why the conversation of cultural appropriation is mis-narrated. It has less to do with racial ownership and more to do with racial stigmas.
“You’ve captured and policed my freedom for so long that you are not allowed to have any of me,” Jonathan says.
Black hair has been abused and controlled for so long that black hair is not and will never be just hair. People of colour based on the Afrocentric hairstyles that they decide to wear in professional and academic settings are often discriminated against.
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“A Statment of Pride” displayed 12/10/17.
It was only in 2015 that Fashion Police host, Giuliana Rancic said Zendaya’s dreadlocks made her look like she “smells of patchouli oil and weed.” More recently, Amari Allen, a 12-year old black girl was reported to have been pinned down last September by three white male classmates, who called her dreadlocks “ugly” and “nappy” then cut them off.
“That’s the bias stereotype that is associated with our hair. We have the Afro, the cornrows, the locs but it’s told for us to take it off because it’s not appropriate, it’s not neat but in your privilege its fashion,” said Jonathan.
“You see people not of colour want to wear these styles and be voiced the right to by other people not of colour, and it’s like ‘no you can’t’. You will never walk in the same shoes that we have or understand the burden of our history and for you to feel the need to carry it when not just generations ago, but today, you destroy black hair and the black movement of it, and the black body itself in attempt to erase us,” continued Jonathan.
A lot of the time we see the fashion industry making great strides in change as they move in the direction of diversity and inclusivity, but these changes do not mean things really have changed. It is this believed idea that we live in a post-racial world that distracts us from these present realities faced by people of colour.
One thing a lot of non-black people don’t realise is just how much maintenance Afro-type hair is. If somebody says I’m washing my hair tonight, it can be like a three-hour job – it’s an excuse for why you wouldn’t go out. Out of all the different types and textures it’s probably the most fragile, combing it or brushing it, tying into a scrunchie takes more time than most people have, so wigs and weaves, the straightening of black hair is the simplest of solutions.
Following the controversy, Comme de Garçons hair stylists Julien d’Ys called the criticism stupid, in a now deleted comment. He has since issued an apology: “My inspiration for the Comme des Garçons show was Egyptian prince – If I did, I deeply apologise.” The apology didn’t go down well, with critics asking why the brand didn’t use Egyptian models if that was the case?
“Apology or no apology is bullsh** because you could have prevented the whole situation if you did things right. We’ve been destroyed for so long, we need a lot more time to heal,” says Jonathan.
Curator and founder of Kanaiza, Vanessa Onalo, says, “If I was going to Kenya to do a story on Messiah people, even someone who is Kenyan, I would, one, have to ask for the permission, two, get a greater understanding and, three, make sure I’m representing that community in a way in which they want to be represented”.
The industry has shown over and over that its existence extends into the realm of politics, so it’s worth asking why they are suddenly not political when it comes to borrowing from other cultures.