Fashion can range from a T-shirt and sweats to runway-ready designer outfits and accessories, but no matter what a person’s style is, wearing the look with confidence increases its appeal. On the runway, models showcase their designers’ creations to please audiences around the world during the renowned Fashion Week. Many critics are captivated by the stories designers tell and applaud their ability to create meaningful pieces of art.
However, the media has expressed concerns that fashion designers abuse their artistic powers by incorporating pieces of religion or history of other cultures into their work. This is sometimes done without knowing the importance of the piece of clothing or by choosing the wrong model to represent it.
The most recent accusation of misrepresenting a culture properly was in Gucci’s winter/fall show during Milan Fashion Week. According to the Huffington Post, “Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele drew inspiration from Donna Haraway’s 1984 essay on ‘A Cyborg Manifesto,’ which rejects the idea of rigid boundaries separating humans from animals and machines.” During the show, there were models wearing turbans, bindis, head scarves and other religiously symbolic articles of clothing.
There is a fine line between cultural borrowing and cultural appropriation. Arguments stem from the fact that models are representing an integral part of someone else's past in a meaningless pop-culture way, while others say fashion designers are using clothing to show their appreciation of a culture and are using their art form to tell the rest of the world a story. However, the conflict in the Gucci show was the fact that the models who were representing the clothing from different cultures were, for the majority, white.
Sophomore Gabriella Harmon is is a model, has walked in runway shows and has witnessed similar occurrences.
“It’s not okay to wear things that are not from your culture when there are plenty of models available to model pieces that do associate with their culture,” Harmon says, “we don’t need anymore white models modeling African American, Muslim, Asian, etc. clothing when there are a variety of different cultured models trying to break into the industry that would not be appropriating culture,” she said.
The only explanation of this would need to be given by the designers of Gucci themselves, but according to fashionmagazine.com, there was a press conference after his show, and Michele said, “We’re at a point in history where we’re liberated from our natural condition, adding we can now ‘decide what we want to be.’ He suggested this was a sign of the ‘post-human’ era we’re entering, and we’re now the ‘Dr. Frankenstein of our lives.’” Michele claims that some of the public has not come to accept his idea of incorporating pieces of culture into his outfits as merely self-determination and not appropriation.
Many people in the fashion industry support Michele and his justification, however. According to the New York Times Style Magazine, “Fashion has been “borrowing” from other cultures for decades. Elsa Schiaparelli based her upturned shoulders, the ones that set the silhouette for the ’30s and ’40s, on the costumes of Balinese dancers. Yves Saint Laurent pillaged the Steppes and the Far East. Almost everyone’s turned to Japan at some point…”
The big question is... at what point does “being inspired” by another culture become wrong?