Marc Jacobs recently held a fashion show during New York fashion week. For this fashion show he elected to have his models wearing fake dreadlocks in their hair. Many people complained that this was insensitive and that he was appropriating from a culture that wasn’t his. This sparked an outcry online with many voicing their opinions about the suitability of cultural appropriation.
The main argument that arose from this controversy was whether he was appropriating culture or appreciating it. Appropriating is defined as “take (something) for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission”, whilst appreciation is defined as “recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something”. The difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation is the intent and awareness of the individual adopting from another culture. Even with much debate on the subject, it is very difficult for people to explain the difference in concrete terms, and this results in much ambiguity in interpreting whether something has been appropriated or not. Where is the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation?
When people hit out at Marc Jacobs on the internet claiming that the use of dreadlocks was offensive he hit back. He stated “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.” These words were not well received. Many people complained that he did not understand the history and significance of dreadlocks and that this was not a reflection of cultural appreciation but a reflection of cultural appropriation.
Marc Jacobs’ followed this by posting, “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.” This was also negatively received with many people pointing out that the majority of the models chosen were white. Marc Jacobs’ eventually apologised for his comments. Even though the use of dreadlocks in this situation may have been inappropriate, the feelings he was trying to express was that in his opinion, white people are judged for adopting different cultures styles, whereas other cultures are free to adopt from white culture without any negative accusation. Is it fair for white people to be judged so heavily for adopting fashions from other cultures or has the history of white people appropriating and then dominating other cultures too significant to ignore?
Fashion designers frequently base their designs around an underlying concept. This concept could be a film, or a style of architecture, or essentially anything in the world. Fashion based around a concept is based on “the primacy of ideas over appearance, self-reflection over resolution, innovation and experimentation” (Geczy 2012, 67). With fashion being a constantly evolving art form, drawing inspiration from any and all things, does the dismay over appropriation result in a less innovative, experimental and evolving fashion industry?
Geczy, Adam & Karaminas, Vicki. 2012. Fashion and art. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Nymag.com “Marc Jacobs comments on dreadlock controversy”. 2016. Accessed October 3. http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/09/marc-jacobs-comments-on-dreadlock-controversy.html
BBC Newsbeat “Marc Jacobs apologises over dreadlock controversy at New York Fashion Week”. 2016. Accessed October 3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/37406039/marc-jacobs-apologises-over-dreadlock-controversy-at-new-york-fashion-week