Perhaps, the fashionistas are no longer strange to the collections inspired by different cultures from many luxury fashion houses over the past time. However, the line between “taking inspiration” and “appropriating” culture is extremely thin.
Borrowing culture as creative material in high fashion one inch wrong and one mile away
Neither new nor old, cultural appropriation seems to be one of the “hot” topics that has stirred the fashion world for more than a decade. Designers often choose national cultures as a source of creativity, not because they make their collections look different from previous seasons, nor as a gimmick to resonate with the public.
But here, culture, besides art, is the bridge connecting countries, ethnicities, and genders together. For that reason, fashionistas can easily find creative inspiration from culture and art through fashion artifacts of famous fashion houses. However, once a collection has cultural elements, this often leads to two results: one is to honor that culture, and the other is to appropriate the culture.
Obviously, the four largest fashion capitals in the world including the UK, USA, Italy, and France are all home to most of the luxury fashion brands that have a great influence on the development of the fashion sector. In general, the fashion houses from these four capitals all have a distinctive Bourgeois (capitalist style) design: classic, luxurious, and well-groomed with many layers of costumes and accessories.
But fashion houses cannot stay in place in each of their countries, but need to “penetrate” a more fertile potential market as well as a new and breakthrough creative territory. To do so, it is not enough to be proud of Bourgeois heritage, even though this style is quite strange compared to the way of dressing in many Asian countries, forcing brands to create miracles.
The future not only stimulates the desire for possession of the fashionistas but also does not overshadow the typical icons of the fashion house. And culture is the “catalyst” that designers incorporate into their collections.
Back to the story of cultural appropriation in fashion. This is not a recent issue, it has been around since before the terms “fashion”, “trend” and “style” were born. In the 17th century, the British and French aristocrats greatly favored the elegance and power of the three-piece suit – a traditional outfit from Muslim countries.
Not stopping there, people of the British Regent era often wore traditional Indian churidar pants, but with a better fit. These simple examples have partly shown that cross-cultural interference appeared centuries ago, taking place at the same time as the spread of religions and beliefs in different countries.
At a time when fashion has risen to become one of the billion-dollar industries, there are also many designers who use cultural elements as creative materials. Among them can be mentioned the CHANEL Métiers d’Art 2011 collection by designer Karl Lagerfeld with costumes inspired by Indian traditions such as saree, anarkalis, and salwar-kameez; Gucci Fall Winter 2019 collection with Sikh Indy Turban hat; and many other cases.
Looking at it from many angles, it is really difficult to determine the true “background” of basic clothing shapes (such as skirts, t-shirts, shirts…). Over the years, fashionistas consider it a common property of the fashion industry. Particularly, the imprints bearing the distinctive identities of ethnic groups, religions, and countries need to be respected.
Cultural appropriation is no longer an issue when fashion houses clearly share the cultural inspiration they exploit on fashion items. Only then, the country that owns that culture can feel the respect and honor of the brand for its proud spiritual values.
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