Charles Hobbs ’17, staff writer
The world of fashion is no stranger to exploitation. Nobody will soon forget Valentino’s subtly racist “African-inspired” Spring/Summer ‘16 collection, which featured an almost entirely white, corn-rowed catwalk, or when Bella Hadid led an exclusively white brigade of models down Misha’s Fall/Winter ‘16 runway to the tune of Beyoncé’s pro-black “Formation”. Noticing a trend? When an article titled, “How a Florida Mom and Etsy Star Became the Force Behind Marc Jacobs’s Jaw-Dropping Runway Dreadlocks” was published on Vogue yesterday, it became clear that the Spring/Summer ‘17 season was going to be no better than those of years past. Another fashion week, another shameless display of cultural appropriation, as the saying goes.
To be blunt, the dreadlocks ruined the show on many, many levels. And, while Jacobs is guilty of allowing them onto his runway, it looks as though hairstylist Guido Palau is to blame. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Palau lists his inspirations as being “rave culture, club culture, [and] acid house.” Notably absent? The black women who originated the hairstyle in the first place. With his words, Guido seems to have categorized a black hairstyle as grungy and unclean, and ascribes its being made “fashionable” to himself while failing to give credit where it is due. Jacobs himself took to Instagram to defend the decision, writing,
“And all who cry “cultural appropriation” or whatever nonsense about any race of skin color wearing their hair in a particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color or race- I see people. I’m sorry to read that so many people are so narrow minded…Love is the answer. Appreciation of all and inspiration from anywhere is a beautiful thing. Think about it.”
His response is a complete non-apology, in which he fails to understand the frustration coming from black people and instead attempts to paint people of color as the ignorant ones. He gets bonus points for the tired “I don’t see color” drivel, and for trying to compare women of color straightening their hair due to societally impressed Eurocentric beauty standards to cultural appropriation when they are, in fact, opposite things.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that only ten of the models who walked were black, with supermodel Jourdan Dunn being the most prominent. Kendall Jenner and the Hadid sisters, posterchildren for nepotism, privilege, and anti-blackness, were unsurprisingly the stars of the show. It’s a shame, considering the plethora of black models who undoubtedly would have killed to be in this show, but were likely never given the chance. Whoever cast this show obviously favored ghostly and emaciated Soviet-esque models (Taylor Hill, anyone?), and missed the mark entirely. The casting is disappointing, but consistent with industry norms.
As for the clothes and accessories, they were gorgeous. Colorful and fun, it was refreshing to see Jacobs venture out of his rather gloomy comfort zone. These are clothes made for young people, which is why it’s unfortunate that he has so spectacularly blown his effort to connect with them. This show could have marked the beginning of a new era for the designer, but it was instead overshadowed by ugly, ugly racism.