Yet another cultural appropriation debate

Valentino’s spring/summer 16 collection has sparked yet another debate on cultural appropriation. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli based the new Valentino SS16 collection on the many African refugees from Senegal, Nigeria, Eritrea, Mali, Gambia that have been immigrating to Italy.

Now before we dive deeper into the topic, we need to make one thing clear, there is a big difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation. Cultural appropriation occurs when a dominant culture adopts cultural objects from a minority culture and labels it as new without paying respect to the minority culture. Whilst appreciation can be seen as a positive merging of cultures, learning from each other and respecting and ‘appreciating’ other cultures.

maisonvalentino via Instagram

Although the designers seem to have the best intentions, there are some aspects of the show that should be revisited. The fashion industry has always been criticised for its lack of diversity on runway shows and it seems rather odd for a collection that was inspired by cultures from Africa to only feature 8 models of colour out of 87 models on the runway. And although over 90% of the models were white, they wore their hair in cornrows and dreadlocks, a style typically associated with African and Caribbean culture.

However important it is to raise the issue of refugees, it is important to give if you take. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli feel that fashion is all about sending a message as they have stated in an interview. However merely discussing or raising an issue is just one part of the solution, the second part is taking action, how will these designers be giving back to the African refugees? Will parts of the profit go towards refugee funds and charities? Will they be working with African artisans when producing the fabrics for the collections? Will they raise awareness and promote new emerging African designers/fashion. This is what is seen as part of the problem, adding an African mix into your designs and not giving back to these designers can be seen as appropriating.

There’s no doubt that Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli had the right intention of raising awareness to this social issue but to what extent are these designers willing to go, to support the cause?

Habiba Katsha

Image credits: MaisonValentino/Instagram, Arnaud Lafeuillade

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