Cultural appropriation and appreciation is a hot topic in the world of fashion, with many of your favourite stars and brands being labelled with appropriating cultures.
A quick breakdown of appropriation and appreciation is that using other cultures as means for your aesthetic, without looking at the cultural relevancy which the items contain is appropriation. Appreciation is when someone takes a culturally relative item, studies the history behind it as well as the reasons it’s a relic to that specific culture, understanding the culture and embracing the culture.
Designers as culture vultures
Many brands use cultural appropriation as a tool of expression, for example, Marc Jacobs SS17 collection used dreadlocks on all the models regardless of their race. Why is this a prime example of appropriation you ask? Dreadlocks come from the African and Caribbean cultures of the world, and is a protective style for the hair; however, would not work on straight hair and would break the hair as its made for a specific hair type wich is African and Caribbean. The widespread discrimination of dreads is shown by the idea that dreads symbolise negative connotations stemming from stereotypes from the west, as they don’t coincide with their idea of beauty. Marc Jacobs’ decision to use this in his SS17 collection brings the idea that it was used for the aesthetical purposes, disregarding the persecution and judgment that has come with this hairstyle. The decision for Jacobs ordering dreads to go on all models regardless of race is problematic as it supports the argument that hairstyles that the west taunted for decades are now used as fashion statements.
Another designer who’s been identified as a cultural appropriator, was Christian Dior in their Dior Sauvage advertisement, in which they had depicted a Native American man who was played by Johnny Depp. The Native Americans were brutally killed and attacked from a product of colonization from Europe. The problem stems from the word “Sauvage” and the link towards the native American community because it contradicts the empowerment which is claimed by using such word. By using motifs from Native Americans and concepts of the Native Americans is extremely problematic as it allows for the consumers to assume that the advert has a link towards the Native American community when in reality it’s the latter.
The commercial by Dolce & Gobanna came under fire for stereotyping an East Asian model in their advert, in which the model was seen eating Italian foods with chopsticks. The connotations this held were highly racist as many people who consumed the advert had found that the advert had underlying racism. In terms of recognising the stereotype of East Asians and misconceptions, what had been undeniably ignorant, was the fact that the advert diverted from the clothing to the model eating Italian foods with chopsticks.
The chronicles of celebrity ignorance of appropriation
Many of your favourite celebrities have used someone’s culture for their own aesthetic and use, for example, the entire Kardashian Family, have repeatedly been culturally appropriating many cultures, in particular black culture. From darkening their skin tones drastically, to having braids, cornrows, dreadlocks, Bontu Knots, durags to ripping off Black designers. The family have been plastered with such accusations, which have been backed by the Kardashian themselves from their relentless actions, by continuously wearing such items till this day. They’re huge stars with huge influence and by doing so, they would allow for their fans to assume that this is permissible. This would lead to the black community and designers all feel that they’ve been disadvantaged as their culture was oppressed and tormented, but now is being used as fashion statements from celebrities like the Kardashians.
Creative industries or culture stealers
Music is also a key player in exploiting minority cultures, from western artists to artists in other areas of the world. Coldplay and Beyoncé have also been accused of cultural appropriation, specifically the South Asian and Indian cultures. From the headpieces, heavy traditional necklaces, henna which is a design made by plant-based pigments, to Beyoncé wearing a lengha, a traditional attire for south Asian females. These would be a part of cultural appropriation, as they have supported items which have roots in South Asia, these would adhere to cultural appropriation due to the song Hymn for the Weekend having little to nothing to do with India. This isn’t the first for the band, as Coldplay were accused of appropriating Japanese culture for the music video of Princess of China, which is an ignorant part of the band as they had used Japanese culture to depict a song about a princess in China. K-Pop stars are also continuously appropriating cultures from black cultures to South Asian cultures. Like wearing cornrows, braids, durags, these have been slandered as ghetto and seemed somewhat unpleasing for the western societies and eastern worlds, the durag had covered Vogue in 2020 for the first time, showing the lack of acceptance to such items. To wearing Indian headpieces, these would all accumulate to a sense of confusion as many K-pop stars would appropriate cultures even though their own culture would be appropriated.
Public events or reasons for appropriation
Halloween is another time of the year where it seems that appropriating culture seems to be dismissed and allowed. Why is this? From taking Mexican, Arabian, Native American, Latino and Black cultures as a vice to take advantage of ethnic dresses. By doing so they would use clothing which would hold a high amount of cultural relevance and sensitivity to the ethnic groups. By wearing garments like these on events like Halloween, it undermines the cultural heritage of such groups, subsequently causing deep-rooted problems in the ethnic communities as their clothing would be seen as gimmicks by the wider public. Being seen as this leads to the ethnic communities to be reluctant to embrace their own cultures as events like this take the importance away from such relics.
Coachella is another event which gives many people a motivation to deride ethnic minorities, by stars and festival-goers wearing items such as Native American war bonnets and South Asian headpieces like bindis as accessories for their lacklustre outfits. This would lead to the wider public to consume such items as mere commodities when in reality these items hold cultural importance to each group, symbolising their struggles and oppression.
Cultural appreciation, what’s the differentiation
Cultural appreciation is in contrast to appropriation, as appreciation is based on understanding and broadening the perspective of other cultures. Many brands and celebrities have been identified as appreciating cultures.
Christian Dior has been dubbed as appreciating cultures, especially African Moroccan for their resort 2020 show. They used local cultures, textiles and workmen for the show. They used the local culture which had influenced the show from the cotton inspired dresses to the textile print on the fabric. They also hired local experts and people who had helped in making the collection for the clothing to the setting. These are two companies which have used appreciation as their tool of expression while validating the sensitivity and relevancy of the cultures intertwined with the collections. On the other hand, critics argued that it was a poor attempt at appreciation as Maria Grazia Chiuri had made basic silhouettes with the African setting, calling it appreciation.
Many celebrities have been dubbed as empowering and appreciating the cultures of others. Many take place on magazine covers, especially for magazine companies based abroad. For example, Rihanna’s Harper’s Bazaar China covers for 2015 and 2019 had been photographed by Chinese photographers, styled by Chinese stylists and for a Chinese magazine. Restoring the idea that celebrities and people from different cultures can take part in appreciation of cultures, mainly due to the fact that celebrating cultures is rare and now can be seen as appropriation. By doing so it develops an understanding that appreciating cultures is something that is needed in a diverse world like ours.
The blurred lines
The lines between cultural appropriation and appreciation are blurred. In the essence that people may not know if they are uplifting cultures or are degrading cultures in forms of appropriation. The lines would be blurred as in today’s world people would not educate themselves of other people’s cultures as they would be accustomed to the western lifestyle and assume that it fits for all cultures. Many people may believe that they are appreciating culture when they would be appropriating it. By doing so you are undermining and gentrifying a whole culture for the means of meeting the expectation of your aesthetic. From a person of colour, learn about the culture which you want to appreciate, accustom yourself to the meaning and the understanding behind such items. Many items have a deep-rooted insight into the persecution and tyranny of the ethnic minorities of the western world.
Lastly, my culture is not a costume, as they have had to endure the time of oppression and have become culturally sensitive in their own right.