07 October 2016

Where to draw the line in fashion – appreciation or appropriation?

Valentino S/S 2016 Campaign via valentino.com
Celebrities, fashion designers and even people in your neighbourhood take on the codes of cultures – but how does one objectively define the boundary between cultural appreciation and appropriation when the answer is so grey and big names in the industry are dismissing it?

The very concept of creativity is to be inspired, to sample and then to refine into something new – artists from all walks of life start their humble beginnings by using pre-existing objects and nothings around them to be inspired, and with fashion designers, there’s absolutely no doubt that one must be inspired by everything and nothing to come up with a collection of eye-catching clothes. Culture is one of the many inspirations that designers come too when they need new ideas, and of course it can be done well – but the industry itself is known for being conversational and outrageous, so the fact that fashion has blurred the boundaries of cultural appreciation and appropriation is no newsflash. The industry is well known for its elitist and exploitative nature, from workers to the individuals outside of the industry who feel that their heritage and culture have been used for capitalism in an inappropriate manner. From magazine editorials to runways to even phrases of an ‘African-inspired collection’, many are slamming several designers, and the industry itself for being uneducated and too narrow-minded about the complications of appropriation.

Valentino S/S 2016 via vogue.com
Valentino is one of the many names in the industry who have received backlash for their appropriation of their African-inspired collection from their Spring/Summer 2016 collection - this isn't the first time either. The clothing, which was inspired, respectively of course, by the traditional African dress, was not so much the issue – rather it was the use of the cornrow braids styled into the hair of models who – wait for it, were predominantly white. Not one model of colour on the runway. To add fuel to the fire, Valentino continued to anger the online social media by putting forth a campaign for that very collection that again, using white models, had them in cornrows, posing in Africa surrounded by local villagers. There was debate that the campaign itself surpassed appropriation into clear racism of white superiority.

Designers like London-based KTZ, have also been blasted with backlash for using sacred symbolism from Inuit culture in their Winter/Fall 2016 collection – where a number of garments had patterns based on the traditional designs without consent. Salome Awa, a Nunavut native, had gone ahead with a complaint letter addressing the issue of appropriation to the brand and after apologising, the collection was pulled off retailers. Some names in the industry have argued that fashion is about bringing individuals together with a sense of style, and that by ‘mixing’ together cultures with traditional attire, hairstyles, music and even mannerism, that the industry and society will become better adjusted to cultural diversity. After all, the industry with its mass diversity from insiders to consumers outside (with Asia leading the way for consumerism in the luxury area), isn’t it best as for a melting pot of cultures?

KTZ F/W 2016 via vogue.com / Inuit symbolism via Kerian Oudshoorn
The damage of cultural appropriation is rather hard to comprehend when one doesn’t have an understanding of white supremacy – historical black hairstyles (cornrows, twists, locs) have always, and admittedly still are stigmatised and deemed unprofessional by many businesses with many individuals losing jobs because of their hair. It becomes an eye-twitching moment to then see a white celebrity figure (See: Lena Dunham) wearing cornrows, suddenly turn the once-dismissed hairstyle into a trend that pulls away at centuries of black history. 

There’s more to it too – from bindis to the 'watered down Chinese-kimino' (which has been purposely worded wrong to bring a sense of the uncomfortable) to even the native headdress piece, all of which hold significant value to their respective cultures, it becomes unsettling and even upsetting to see white supremacy at it’s worst to adopt parts of oppressed and minority cultures while actual individuals of said cultures are being demonised. Beyond the industry, the annual holiday of Halloween brings to more fuel of cultural appropriation, where professor Belk (1990) states that 'halloween is seen as a holiday was focuses on the power of inversion - it's about turning the social norm into something that is not the norm.' It's fine, of course to dress up as celebrities or public figures because it's the social norm to see the humour in it, but when you're trying to dismantle a culture for the sake of this holiday - especially a culture that is presently (or in the past) experiencing oppression on one way or another, there is no inversion, it's simply reinforcing current power structures.  One of the most infamous 'costumes' (I use this term with as much respect as possible because it is not a costume, it is a culture) would be the Native American headdress. One too many times has capitalism seen the purchase and wear of the sacred headdress - built from individualised eagle feathers and even using colours and Navajo-inspied prints on the clothing. There is no knowledge, no rights and no meaning, as every piece of sacred clothing is a sense of an important culture and tradition - and interestingly enough, it's actually illegal within the United States 'to offer or display, or even sell any goods in a manner that falsely suggests that it is Indian produced, or inspired by (a tribe).' (If you're interested, Urban Outfitters were sued by a Navajo nation.) While the halloween pieces may not go as far as claiming truth from a tribe, it does peel away at centuries of traditions and culture, which additionally adds onto the discrimination that so many Native-American individuals and communities experience and turning it into a costume that holds no value.

Blackfeet and Blackfoot couple via traditionalnativehealing.com / Native American Headpiece via globerove.com

The issue of cultural appropriation will never come to a conclusion because it’s an issue that will always have answers floating in the grey zone – perhaps the best way to see it is that cultural appreciation comes down to the simple recognition of and respect for culture that inspires said acts of the arts. At the end of the day though, it comes down to one’s social privilege to prioritise the respect of a culture – cultural appreciation is more than just a fashion accessory for a music festival, and it definitely brings more to light in the industry motto of ‘expressing yourself through clothes.’

A Turning Point in the Industry

via vogue.com 
Fashion month is one of the busiest and most stressful months in the yearly calendar of the frivolous industry – for veterans of the industry, it’s the same old with presentations of collections with masses of attention and media, while for smaller and fresh faces in the industry, it can occasionally be difficult to get the foot through the door, making it all too easy to miss out on new talent revolutionising the industry.

However during NYFW, one designer had taken the industry, critics and fans by storm by becoming the first Muslim designer to have an all hijab-incorporated collection inspired by her hometown of Jakarta. With 48 beautiful and ethereal looks donning the runway for media, fans and insiders to see, Anniesa Haisbuan created history by becoming the first Indonesian designer to show at New York, earning a standing ovation at the end.

via vogue.com
While only one year into business, Haisbuan states that she wanted to use her designs to introduce and educate people both inside and outside of the industry to the ‘different and diverse parts of Indonesia’. Using printing techniques of ethnic mosaics and bold signature colours of gold, green and peach, Hasibuan has worked towards a vision to showcase the beauty of her country and beautifying the Muslim tradition with silhouettes and embellished pieces.

Following the policy ban of the burkini in France, this notion of the hijab being apart of the industry is a significant moment that brings progress and diversity into a once all-white and exclusive industry. Amidst the anti-Muslim rhetoric of socio-political conditions, Hasibuan has described her collection as a way to show the world that there is no slowing down. Previously, I had written about how Cannes Mayor David Lisnard claimed that the burqa-swimpieces were “the symbol of Islamic extremism.” He’s also stated that since France is currently the target of many terrorist attacks, beachwear that displays religious affiliation is liable in creating public doubt and disorder. Haisbuan's revolutionising collection is a massive step in the industry for less secularism within and outside - this defies consumerism and delves deeper into acceptance and understanding of culture and a changing norm within society.

via vogue.com
While bigger names such as H&M and Dolce & Gabbana have run down the same line with hijab-incorporated campaigns through the lenses of Casuasian creative heads, Hasibuan has shown that the power and voice of the industry expresses identity and value, as well as break down the misconception and stereotypes that tend to sit with those who choose to adorn the hijab for their faith. As the hijab is introduced more into mainstream Western culture through the means of the industry, one can only hope that it will become less of a foreign piece of clothing and replaced with cultural awareness and understanding.

At a time where what a Muslim woman chooses to wear is causing much unnecessary debate, Hasibuan’s collection is a historic moment into diversifying the industry even more. Conclusively, while the show was able to show the beauty and functionality of the hijab, the diverse casting of models also aims to prove that the industry is moving at a gradual pace to model diversity and racism.

05 October 2016

The New Definition of Luxury: Less is More

Originally posted on the 5th October 2016 here.

Luxury can be defined as many things, from buying five-figure bags to three-figure dinners at 3-Michelin star restaurants, luxury is defined as wealth beyond imagination that expensive items that would make a regular individual in society scoff at wouldn’t be an issue at all to buy.

Perhaps that’s the how the older generation thinks, that luxury equals a vast amount of dispensable money – and especially in the fashion industry, luxury equals the ability to be exclusive and affluent through consumerism. But for many of the younger generation, the definition of luxury has begun to shift from exclusivity to convenience. Public School, a womenswear label that combines street wear and high fashion, claims that  ‘new Western luxury’ has to do with quality and craftsmanship – not necessarily how much something costs or the name and history of the brand. Chow, half of the Public School duo, says that ‘luxury is all about making your life easier, the idea of ease and effortlessness.’ Representing a new movement of creative driven by taste and versatility, luxury, in a new sense can be considered minimalism at its finest in the industry. More is less, or so it seems.

Previous habits of disposable pieces and conspicuous consumerism has changed with the minds of young, fashionable generation who are after simple, durable, high-quality and forever in-trend pieces that are both luxurious yet anonymous enough to be worn repeatedly, and versatile enough to work anywhere and everywhere. Luxury as minimalism has become a practical and sustainable alternative to the materialistic spending ethos. As designer pieces become plainer, their messages follow suit too, with young and fresh designers like Public School and Joseph inspiring the likes of Stella McCartney and Chloé to go minimalist, with the philosophy that ‘less is more’ to be the new in. Even Alexander Wang, who had once focused on grunge and colour have moved onto the luxury ethos of versatile simplicity.

Luxury as minimalism ebbs as not only a popular aesthetic, but also a lifestyle that underpins many social developments in the 20th century – with the liberation of women’s freedoms from their stereotypical roles in the 30s came the social change of the way they dressed. From the restrictive skirts and corsets came the masculine and more practical attire for women to wear. With political relevancy comes the emergence of avant-garde Japanese designers (Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons being the most famous for this) emphasising luxury in a distressed and simple manner with deliberately destroyed and ripped style to reflect the bourgeois lifestyle.

Ultimately, fashion continues to change its direction, from outrageously distracting to simplistic designs, from bold colours to sombre and gothic, the industry defines luxury as simple and plain – an emphasis on less is more, investment on quality rather than quantity and above all, a change in the way the young generation sees luxury. The new idea of luxury has become less about affluent and more about clean and carefully curated and meaningful purchases. 

02 October 2016

For The Woman, By The Woman

Dior S/S 2017 via vogue.com 
The rise of the female direction is prominent at fashion week, from New York first all-hijab collection by Indonesian designer to Paris with the unveiling of the first Dior season by Maria Grazia Chiuri – just one of the many legacies being made in the works in the world of fashion.

Fresh and prim from Valentino, Chiuri was rumoured to be the new creative director back in July, and has since given the beloved house of Dior a new perspective with a female head.  Even though she has become the first woman to pave the way towards the succession of the house with her own twist, Chiuri had emphasised that she wanted to continue the legacy that her predecessor, Raf Simons (who is now at Calvin Klein) had created when he rebranded the name of Dior four years ago.

Dior S/S 2017 via vogue.com
With a stunning first show that reeled in the likes of Rihanna, Kate Moss and supermodel Karlie Kloss to the front row, it’s been argued that Chiuri, with her new position at Dior, makes her the most ‘powerful woman in Parisian fashion since Coco Chanel’. As the models walked down the runway with shirts that splayed the words ‘we should all be feminists’, a reminisce of Adiche’s famous TED talk, it became apparent that this significant moment in the industry is set into stone as the house, since the rebranding of Simons’ modernised woman, as a symbol of womanhood itself.  (Adichie was also front row.) During such a time in society and era of cultural change in the name of women and femininity, this opportunity for Chiuri to step outside of her comfort norm at Valentino to explore and embrace the feminist symbolism at her appointment as director.

'We should all be feminists' - by Adichie at Dior S/S 2017 via vogue.com
From quilted jackets, cropped trousers and even the classic Dior ‘bar’ silhouette, redefined from the archives to even Valentino-eque influenced silhouettes in the flow of the dresses, Chiuri was keen to embrace both the traditional reflection of the house, as well as addressing the new millennials of consumers in luxury products. A change from the once artistic and romantic look of Dior from John Galliano’s era to the downsized of minimalism from Raf Simons, Chiuri embraced the now trend of luxe sport with craftsmanship that resonates from Valentino. Low heels and sneakers were a must and minimal makeup was the key look that Chiuri has taken responsibility of in order to move the house of Dior forward to become more relevant for today’s young consumers while still staying truth to the house’s history as the first woman in in the house.

Lanvin S/S 2017 via vogue.com
Lanvin also saw legacy in the making following the departure of long time design and beloved Alber Elbaz, who is most renown for giving Lanvin the vision of the modern woman. The debut creative designer, Bouchra Jarrar, ceased all chaos that apprehended the house following Elbaz’s withdrawal to create a beautiful collection with minimalist tailoring while still embodying a romantic and visionary woman – feminine but still strong. Like Chiuri, it seem that while Jarrar is keen to move the house of Lanvin forward in her own strengths, she has decided to stay relatively true to the house and of course, continue the legacy of Elbaz’s work, as ‘someone that she fully respects’. In an era where the fashion industry is made for women (consumers), shouldn’t I be obvious that it should be made by women too?

Rihanna's Fenty x Puma S/S 2017 via cosmopolitan.com

Honourable moments during this massive change in the industry at Paris Fashion Week also go out too Rihanna with her Fenty x Puma collection that was unveiled only hours prior to the Dior show – as a female artist and voice in both the fashion industry and in popular culture, Rihanna’s vision has seen Puma go up in profits and translate a style more accommodated towards a broader target market.  Chloé’s Clare Keller, Comme des Garçon’s Rei Kawakubo and Vivien Westwood of her eponymous label also get a round of applaud for conceiving important collections that symbolise and empower the women of today and tomorrow, both in and out of the industry.

For the women, by the women - as it should be.