How Marc Jacobs’ Latest Show Perpetuates Cultural Appropriation

A Marc Jacobs fashion show has once again come under fire due to claims of cultural appropriation. Are we sensing a trend yet? In the past, at Jacobs’ Spring 2015 show, the models walked the runway sporting Bantu knots. They were said to be inspired by singer Bjork, completely ignoring the fact that Bantu knots have been a staple in black hair culture for years. More recently, Jacobs and the brand faced similar issues at this year’s Spring 2017 show where the models walked the runway in colorful dreadlocks. Models like Kendall Jenner, Adriana Lima and Bella Hadid all sported the look during the show.

They said that the look was “Harajuku-inspired” but made no mention of the obvious similarities between the looks sported on the runway and the true origins of dreadlocks. It’s equally troubling that Jacobs’ show featured predominantly white models to go along with a look that is  much more diversely and ethnically worn. Not only were the origins of dreadlocks erased, but so were those that most often wear them. But, it’s not too big of a surprise considering that this has already happened. You would think that Jacobs and his team would learn from their past mistakes and make sure something like this doesn’t happen again, but in this case, it’s quite the opposite. It doesn’t look like Jacobs has learned anything from either controversy. The designer went off on Instagram about the “cultural appropriation or whatever nonsense.”

Jacobs goes on to say, “I don’t see color or race” in the Instagram comment rant. This “color blindness” is an oft-cited excuse for people to disregard their damaging behavior. Maybe if Jacobs did see color, he’d be able to tell that the looks sported in his show were troublesome, at best. He also may have been able to realize that if this was a look he felt he needed to have in his show then it may have been a good idea to hire more models of color to walk in it. If Jacobs saw color, he’d perhaps see history and its effects on this valid and important issue.

He remains incredibly defensive as he tries to counter the controversy by saying, “funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair.” By going on the defensive in such an ignorant manner, Jacobs shows how little he understands about cultural appropriation. Rather than owning up to his mistake and learning something from it, he tries to spark some kind of a crusade against women of color straightening their hair, as if that relates to his cultural appropriation at all and as if the two are comparable.

Jacobs wasn’t the only one who was way off-base. The New York Times praised the runway looks by saying that they were reminiscent of “rave culture, acid house, and Harajuku girls” and that Jacobs made the everyday look “more fashionable.” Excuse me? People of color have worn this look for years but suddenly because a white fashion designer says so that makes it fashionable? Do all styles require validation by white fashion designers? Again, black culture’s influence on the looks is completely and unjustifiably ignored. Instead, the looks are contributed to other sources, a common theme in erasing the influence of black culture in the media. The wigs worn by some of the most famous white models in the business are only now considered chic, fun and fashionable.

Zendaya sported a dreadlocked look at the 2015 Oscars and received comments from Fashion Police that made comparisons of the starlet to patchouli oil and weed. But, when Marc Jacobs has models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss wear the dreadlocked look, it’s suddenly trendy and fashionable, i.e. acceptable to wear. This controversy highlights a huge problem with designers, and the media at large, appropriating styles and trends from black culture and then trying to pass off the looks as their own new thing. When are they going to learn from their insulting mistakes? Hopefully, they will after this, but it doesn’t look likely. It’s just incredibly unfortunate to see media personalities like Marc Jacobs take this course of action and then not take any responsibility for it. Black culture can not and should not be erased as easily as Jacobs and the media have done it. Simply put, it’s infuriating. It’s irresponsible.

One of the weirdest things about the whole issue is that the dreadlocked wigs were pretty irrelevant to Jacobs’ fashion line. They didn’t add anything to his line and only served as a way to highlight how out of touch both he and the media are. And now no one’s talking about his actual designs, so was it even worth it to cause all of this controversy?

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