Comme des Garçons accused of cultural appropriation following debut of 2020 menswear line

Andi Mccloud | Staff Writer

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Photo Credit: Unsplash User Alin Surdu

The runway featured mostly white models in braided cornrow wigs. There were black models who wore wigs and some who kept their natural hair. Critics quickly took to social media to point out the “offensive” look.

Diet Prada, an Instagram page that notoriously calls out major fashion brands and designers, was one of the first to comment on the alleged cultural appropriation, citing that the models appeared to be embarrassed. 

“The look on the models’ faces says it all,” Diet Prada wrote to its 1.7 million followers.

Social media fashion critic Aja Barber wrote on Twitter: “Too busy laughing to be offended. This is a mess.”

Model Adwoa Aboah commented: “Are we surprised?”

As the backlash increased, Julien d’Ys, the stylist behind the wigs, posted an apology via Instagram.

“My inspiration for the Comme des Garçons show was Egyptian prince a look I found truly beautiful and inspirational,” Julien d’Ys wrote. “A look that was an homage. Never was it my intention to hurt or offend anyone, ever. If I did, I deeply apologize.”

Along with his apology, he shared sketches that referenced his inspiration of King Pharaoh’s hair, to which his followers responded by asking why he did not use Egyptian models.

Although the brand is quite popular among celebrities and recognized by other high-profile entities, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this is not the first time they have been accused of lacking in proper African American representation. According to ELLE, in 2018, the brand was accused of not using black models in more than 20 years.

Over the past few years, high fashion brands have been repeatedly accused of cultural appropriation and racism. The blackface controversy with Gucci and H&M’s frequent questionable depiction of black children are the most recently scrutinized. Dolce & Gabbana was just accused of racism and cultural insensitivity due to a recent promotion featuring a Chinese woman struggling to eat pizza and spaghetti with chopsticks. In 2019, Dior faced a backlash from a fragrance that was promoted as “an authentic journey deep into the Native American Soul.”

Although there is no denying these brands could improve on their choices regarding how they implement diversity in their campaigns, “maybe it’s not appropriation as much as it is appreciation,” Hampton University freshman Derek Meza said.

Amid Black History Month, the trend of biting off of African culture seems untimely. However, in the grand scheme of things, who gets to decide if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery or disrespectful?

While in some senses there is a push to be integrated, rather than a segregated society, problems seem to arise when efforts are made to mix certain aspects of our cultures. Instead of calling out one culture for appropriating another, it could be more progressive to acknowledge it as sincere appreciation.

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