The house of Valentino recently presented its collection for Spring 2016 during Paris Fashion Week. The collection was described as “Africa-inspired” and ironically featured mostly white models wearing cornrows and clothing said to be inspired by the continent. With very few Black models used in the runway show, the label was receiving some harsh criticism on social media.
— Simplytolly (@tolly_t) October 7, 2015
valentino’s new collection is africa inspired yet most of the models walking were white…? i expected more from them tbh
— bella (@stockholmns) October 6, 2015
Cultural appropriation is nothing new to high fashion. Africa themed show with corn rows and hardly any black models. #Valentino
— Shenelle del Sol (@ShenelledelSol) October 6, 2015
I wholly missed the rampant cultural appropriation in Valentino’s show. “African” inspired collection but 91% of the models used were white?
— Melanin Monroe (@AmberLaRonde) October 10, 2015
The topic of cultural appropriation is one that has been making headlines more frequently over the last couple of years. Recently, Kendall Jenner received backlash from actress Amandla Stenberg for wearing cornrows in a photo she posted on Instagram. Stenberg accused Jenner of appropriating Black culture. Earlier this year, Allure Magazine was also accused of appropriation because of a piece in the publication titled, “You (Yes You) Can Have an Afro” which featured a white model doing an Afro tutorial. People asked why they didn’t just use a Black model.
In the case of Valentino, designers taking inspiration from other cultures is not new. Several have created collections inspired by trips to different countries. We often hear about a designer saying they took a trip somewhere and were inspired by what they saw around them. But there is a fine line between when it comes to taking bits of a culture and creating a collection around it. For some, it becomes boderline offensive. Particularly in cultures with a sensitive history like that of the Black community. Some say it’s a fine line between actually appreciating the styles of a culture and appropriating it for profit. H&M faced similar backlash in its Canadian stores with the Aboriginal people being offended by traditional headdresses that were being sold as accessories. The items were eventually pulled from store shelves.
The Valentino show specifically had notes that read, “primitive, spiritual, yet regal collection was inspired by “wild, tribal Africa” These are not new descriptions by designers when they say they are inspired by the continent. It perpetuates a certain stereotype about Africa and there are many people who think it’s not right for a non-African to utilize cultural styles to make money on a fashion runway.
The other perspective on this issue could be that showing the culture of a particular continent, country or region is good because it allows those who would have never seen the culture to gain an appreciation for it. It may be an opportunity for that culture to share the same platform and level of limelight as the ones mainstream media is already used to seeing.
What do you think? do you think it’s ok for people from other cultures to take from another to create design? I’d love to hear your thoughts.