Fashion, and art in general, takes inspiration from whatever it wants. Imagination knows no bounds. But what if a designer takes from a culture and makes it “high-fashion”? Or what if they refuse to admit that they didn’t come up with the stolen cultural piece itself?
To be accused of cultural appropriation can sound to some designers as if they can’t take note of the world around them or be influenced by a culture other than theirs. I understand this feeling of ‘stay in your lane’, but I have to disagree. There is a difference in appreciating a culture and stealing a cultural garb for your own profit.
A constructive, respectful way to incorporate a different culture into a collection is to reference it in the show’s notes and interviews, understand the history behind the item/hairstyle/clothing and then give back to the source- whether that is finding indigenous women to make shirts inspired by their traditional costumes or donating proceeds to an organization related to the culture the clothes are part of.
A tactless, disrespectful way to incorporate a different culture into a collection is to respond the way Marc Jacobs did with the back-lash to his faux-locs (made by a White, Floridian Etsy seller) in his spring/summer 2017 show: by not acknowledging the Rastafarian history behind the hairstyle (instead citing transgender filmmaker Lana Wachowski and cyberpunks as inspiration) and defending himself on social media by asking why Black women who straighten their hair aren’t called out for cultural appropriation, completely ignoring that many do because their natural hair is considered ‘not office-appropriate’, and have been conditioned to think straight hair is prettier, or better. This ‘clap-back’ was silly, and stupid, and unnecessary. It distracted from an otherwise very nice and inventive collection.
The bottom line is that designers should be able to follow their inspiration if they approach the collection with respect and the ability to give credit when due. It is this mindset that shows thoughtfulness in the ideas behind the clothes that ultimately creates better collections and better clothes. And everyone can appreciate that.