It seems that, in recent years, no season can go by without one brand or another being accused of cultural appropriation. From a Marc Jacobs rave-inspired collection featuring models in dreadlocks to the same hairdo appearing at an African-themed Valentino show, and from Chinese tourists on the runway of Dolce & Gabbana to Sikh turbans at Gucci, the list is long.
And these accusations are killing creativity in fashion.
While it is of the utmost importance that designers are respectful of the sources of their inspiration, especially when minority groups are involved (native American headdresses at Chanel, anyone?), it is undeniable that the fashion media is quick to point the finger.
It’s no secret that, in this era of instant access, with influencers occupying front-row seats at the runways, fashion-show reviews have lost their clout – and sensational headlines that scream cultural appropriation are one sure-fire way for the media to create an online buzz.
The upshot is that many designers have become wary of looking to other cultures for inspiration for fear of causing offence – even when their intention is to pay homage to cultural diversity.
Should we allow only Chinese brands to use dragon prints, or British labels the tartan check? Having originated in Europe, jeans have become the ubiquitous symbol of American style. Does it follow that the Japanese should have been prevented from perfecting their prized indigo denim?
All too often, today’s media behave like politically correct watchdogs, hunting prey on the catwalks. Is it any wonder, then, that designers are afraid of exploring beyond their own backyards, with collections becoming increasingly bland and uninspired as a result?
Fashion has always been a melting pot. Design studios are peopled by individuals of every nationality and – from those who make it to those who buy it – fashion truly is a global industry. In these divisive and challenging times, rather than condemn the amalgam of influences that fuels novelty in fashion – as in many other creative industries – let’s celebrate it.