As has been the case for many New York Fashion Weeks of yore, everyone waits with baited breath to see how Marc Jacobs will culminate said week with his oft anticipated collections. Known for pushing the envelope every now and again, Jacobs did just that with his Spring 2017 assortment. Once again, he joins the roster of designers who really want onlookers to not be overwhelmed by what seems to be an overall pessimistic view of the world today.
Overwrought with scores of color and eye-catching patterns, Jacobs drew obvious references from rave culture and Harajuku girls. Think Burning Man meets Gothic Lolita. Mutton shoulders were slightly reminiscent of his fall 2009 collection, but this time, they were paired with short shorts and the tallest of platforms that gave a nod to his shoes from fall 2016. The clothes, though a bit off kilter, were nothing short of beautiful and a joy to look at. Low hanging lightbulbs flickered vehemently above models as they stomped. It was a wonder to behold as all Marc Jacobs shows are. But there was an aspect of the show that left quite a few people unnerved.
In a collection boasting a very high percentage of white models (83% if we’re really talking numbers), their heads were adorned in very colorful faux dreadlocks, and many didn’t hesitate to express their distaste.
On Instagram, @caesartalks commented, “HMMM as hell! It’s called CULTURAL APPROPRIATION AND MARC JACOBS CONTINUES TO DO IT“
@likklemshawny also chimed in on the issue stating, “…WE are talking about BLACK STYLES (viewed ghetto on us) that white people take on and then it becomes fashion ON THEM!”
On Twitter, some didn’t remain silent on the issue either. @KiaraRMills quipped, “don’t know about those dreads tho….”
On the other hand, some came to Marc Jacobs’s defense on the issue. @itsAllAlly tried to come to his rescue by reiterating that Marc Jacobs “…stated when ppl of color get their hair straight[end] it’s no backlash”
@ISLANDCHULA28 gave her thoughts on the issue. “…Who cares if #MarcJacobs had white girls in pastel dreads? Dreads actually originated from India not Africa.”
To all of this, Jacobs himself responded by saying,
“And all who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin color wearing their hair in any particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color or race – I see people. I’m sorry to read that so many people are so narrow minded… Love is the answer. Appreciation of all and inspiration from anywhere is a beautiful thing. Think about it.”
It’s important to note that before any of us roamed the earth, dreadlocks have been worn by people from various backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. Greek men from 1600-1500 BCE have all sported this hairstyle as a way to symbolize strength and to intimidate opposing forces. Men from Senegal during the late 1800’s saw their dreadlocks as a means to delineate their spiritual connections to their respective deities, as did Indian men centuries before the Greeks.
The Himba tribeswomen of Namibia have been doing it for centuries by mixing butter with ground red rocks for striking results.It’s just that in modern times, especially with the rise of Rastafarianism (which originated in Ethiopia and not Jamaica as many would assume), black people have developed and innovated ways to maintain and beautifully style their locs, pretty much upping the ante on what we can do with all this melanin. I mean, have you seen our Editor-In-Chic?
In this respect, I can’t completely fault Marc Jacobs’s choice.
However, I can not drive the point home hard enough that a white man can not and should not be the sounding board for black hair. Not then. Not now. Not ever. Telling black women that they shouldn’t be upset because they’re not criticized for straightening their hair only adds insult to injury.
Standards of European beauty have managed to pervade the entire globe without batting an eyelash to the many dilemmas women of color have had to endure. Their wide set noses, voluptuous lips and hips, and most notably their natural hair are still heavily criticized to this day. And it pains me even more that some of the criticism stems from other black women who’ve been told themselves how visually unappealing they are because of features that don’t seem to meet white/European standards. And the waters become even murkier when those same white people who try to police black beauty standards are the ones plumping their lips, injecting their hips and sporting bantu knots as models did during Marc Jacobs’s 2015 show. To note, Mane Addicts ignorantly referred to them as “twisted mini buns”, further exacerbating the erasure of black culture today.
As we all know, Zendaya was publicly humiliated by Giuliana Rancic of E!’s Fashion Police for her faux locs during the 2015 Oscars and had to (intelligently) defend her choice of hairstyle when she, as a beautiful young woman of color, shouldn’t have to. Young black girls in Pretoria, South Africa and in Nassau, The Bahamas have been either threatened with suspension or outright reprimanded if they didn’t straighten the hair that naturally grows from their roots because white/European influences tell these girls their hair is unkempt, dirty, and unprofessional. The problem lies in the policing of natural traits when the main concern is ensuring these female students are dressed appropriately and go to school to broaden their horizons and maximize their potential in a world that often says to them “you’re not good enough.”
In short, I personally didn’t have a problem with the hair used in the show because I understood the aesthetic Jacobs was going for. However, black people should never be vilified for their hairstyles while white people are praised for the same on the other end of the beauty spectrum.
And for the sake of taking the conversation a little deeper and inciting a bit of controversy, here’s a video of a white male student from San Francisco State University being accosted by a black female staff member accusing him of cultural appropriation on his decision to sport dreadlocks.
What do you think about Marc Jacobs’s decision and his response? What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation versus appreciation?