Paris Couture week is now over but in fashion, the conversations after are always the most important. Although the breathtaking presentations of the world’s most significant designers and their usage of color, patterns and fabrics is at the core of most post-press headlines, hair and the thin line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation is dominating the conversations.
The presentations from Chanel, Valentino, Dior and newcomer Guo Pei were insanely elegant, jolie and exquisite beyond comprehension! But even with all of its beauty its hard to both ignore and dissect the difference between inspiration and exploitation during any Fashion week. Valentino showcased a collection with heavy Byzantine and Japanese influences for Paris Fashion week but before we get to that, the brand released their pre-fall collection the week before and ruffled a few feathers.
Although the fashion’s brand’s previous collection was African inspired, this recent collection from Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri, entitled Alchemy. represented fashion from different parts of the world . For the pre-fall look book and collection, Valentino’s mostly all white models were styled in the stunning “Bantu Knots” which originates in Western and Southern Africa from the Bantu people.
Unfortunately Stylist, Guido Palau who created the models hair styles only attributed the Bantu look to Bjork whom he says was the inspiration behind the look, failing to mention the origin of the hairstyle made popular by African women. The innocent mistake may not have been such a big deal if it wasn’t for the fact that fashion has a history of taking from black culture all while erasing our history in the same breath. Vogue ended up crediting the hairstyle not to African women but Bjork. Did they somehow not even remember that Rihanna, Lauyrn Hill and Jada Pinkett all rocked the beautiful natural style before? As for Valentino, It was only last year when a Twitter war erupted over the brand’s “Africa” campaign. The collection was shot in Africa and definitely African inspired but with no representation of African models!?! Strange to say the least.
During last year’s fashion week, Valentino’s Italian counterpart Riccardo Tisci had models walking down the Givenchy runway in sleek tight curls similar to DKNY’s models who strutted down their catwalk in sleek baby hair, a style made popular by around the way Black and Latina girls. DKNY explained that the collection was an homage to the “multicolored, multicultural, multitasking” women of New York. They pointed out that their ethnically diverse selection of models paralled their mission.
Tisci entitled his inspiration “Victorian-chola girl,” as to make sure he didn’t erase the origins of the style. Nevertheless Vogue, Elle and many of the fashion magazines credited the look to the Kendall Jenners and Gigi Hadids of the world. Even giving tutorials on how to get Kendall’s look. We all understand that the Valentino brand and other fashion houses are no strangers to African and African-American culture, which they employ to make fashion statements that tow the tightrope of cultural appropriation vs. celebration. One may think they should be applauded for being inspired by the culture but with only one or two African/Black models represented in the new collection, this absence of diversity suggests that much of their Africa fever is merely style rather than substance, while diverse African voices and people continue to be mainly represented by surface-level symbols or not at all.
Rihanna photo credit: ID Magazine, Bantu traditional ceremony photo credit: ZA, Ciara photo credit: Ciara