Plagiarism to cultural appropriation: Top fashion controversies of 2019
Here’s looking at some of the significant causes célèbres of the year which took the worlds of fashion and luxury by storm — from plagiarism allegations to brands being accused of cultural appropriation.Updated: Jan 01, 2020, 14:31 IST
2019 saw a plethora of brands getting embroiled in a flurry of controversies related to cultural appropriation and Indian designers battling it out over their designs being plagiarised. The social media was abuzz with fashion voices comprising bloggers, editors and fashion junkies taking potshots at brand house’s rather thoughtless campaigns and insensitivity.
The Rohit Bal - Samant Chauhan row
A Facebook post started it all. The post reflected screenshots of Instagram pictures, accusing designer Samant Chauhan of copying a tiered outfit by couturier Rohit Bal. A Delhi-based journalist Chinki Sinha took note of it and replied to this post stating, “No one can claim a silhouette that has been around for decades and even my masterji can make tier dresses like this.” But, the comparison didn’t go down well with Bal and his associates. A heated war of words started with both sides getting into rounds of vitriolic lip-lashing.
Sabyasachi campaign caught in the eye of storm
Designer Sabyasachi’s Instagram post invited a flurry of caustic comments on social media. Quoting Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, the designer posted, “If you see a woman ‘overdressed’, caked with makeup, armoured with jewellery, it is most likely that she is wounded. Bleeding inside, silently (sic)” An array of bloggers, editors and commentators criticised the post as misogynistic, a case of mansplaining and some went on to label it as downright toxic. Soon the designer posted an apology acknowledging the feedback and accepting the blame.
One of Raw Mango’s collection inspired by Kashmir wasn’t received too well, drawing criticism for being “insensitive” and “exotifying” the region that has been under a security lockdown since 5 August when Article 370 that granted special status to the state was scrapped.
Raw Mango, a high-end brand that specialises in Indian textiles, Wednesday posted several photographs and stories to Instagram on its collection ‘Zooni’ featuring a woman dressed in a pheran (a traditional warm kurta). Explaining its inspiration, the brand said, “Kashmir’s tree of life remains resplendent… an abundance of history, beauty and warmth…”
The posts were taken down as it began drawing criticism, but not before screenshots of it were circulated.
Brands accused of cultural appropriation
The Italian luxury house - Gucci was caught in the eye of the storm for cultural appropriation twice this year - first when the house released a balaclava-style sweater in its Fall 2018 outing which sparked off a fusillade of criticism as many claimed resembled blackface.
The backlash was immediate on social media, including by Gucci collaborator Dapper Dan, who took to his Twitter account to express his disappointment in the brand. “I am a black man before I am a brand,” he wrote on Feb 10. “Another fashion house has gotten it outrageously wrong. There is no excuse nor apology that can erase this kind of insult.” The brand was quick to counter the backlash, with its CEO Marco Bizzarri stating in an exclusive interview with WWD that “this is due to the ignorance of this matter. Certainly, it was not intentional, but this is not an excuse.” Other brands which invited backlash on social media were Dior which got slammed for a Mexican-inspired campaign, and Carolina Herrera which was called out by the Mexican government.
The insensitive knit
The British luxury brand Burberry apologised for a noose sweater early this year which was seen as highly insensitive on social media. In its Fall 2019 show, a model sported a pullover with what appeared to be a noose around the neck. Understandably, the piece sent social media into a tizzy of sorts post the show, starting with a post from model Liz Kennedy on Feb. 17 who posted a series of pictures of the sweater with a caption directed at the brand and its designer Riccardo Tisci.
“Suicide is not fashion,” she wrote. “Riccardo Tisci and everyone at Burberry, it is beyond me how you could let a look resembling a noose hanging from a neck out on the runway. How could anyone overlook this and think it would be OK to do this, especially in a line dedicated to young girls and youth.”
In a statement, Tisci apologised for creating the piece. “I am so deeply sorry for the distress that has been caused as a result of one of the pieces in my show on Sunday,” he stated. “While the design was inspired by a nautical theme, I realise that it was insensitive. It was never my intention to upset anyone.”
Louis Vuitton condemns abuse amid Michael Jackson documentary
The French luxury brand was trapped in a whirling vortex following its Fall 2019 men’s wear collection inspired by Michael Jackson, who was the subject of HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland,” which dealt with the child sexual assault allegations against the late musician. The brand’s men’s wear show debuted on Jan 17, more than a week before the documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, but many took great offense to Louis Vuitton’s homage to Jackson’s legacy.
Virgil Abloh, men’s artistic director for Louis Vuitton, issued a statement exclusively to WWD on the backlash the brand received, stating, “I am aware that in light of this documentary the show has caused emotional reactions. I strictly condemn any form of child abuse, violence or infringement against any human rights.”
Kim Kardashian’s Kimono Shapewear brand
Kimono - the reality TV star’s brand, which features shapewear apparel including bras, underwear and bodysuits in nine nude shades, faced backlash over its name, with many accusing the curvy femme fatale of cultural appropriation. After the backlash and an open letter penned by Daisaku Kadokawa, the mayor of Kyoto, asking her to drop the Kimono trademark, Kardashian announced that she will launch the brand under a new name, taking to her Twitter account to crowdsource ideas.
Nike plus-size mannequin backlash
In June, the active wear label unveiled a plus-size mannequin at its Oxford Street store in London, which elicited all sorts of reviews by the public. While some hailed it as a step toward inclusivity and body positivity, others stated obesity and unhealthy eating habits.
The criticism scaled to new heights with the publication of a Telegraph piece on June 9 by journalist Tanya Gold, who asserted the Nike mannequin is “immense, gargantuan, vast” and “heaves with fat.”
As Gold was met with her own backlash — with many on social media calling the article fatphobic and horrifying — former Nike head of global apparel, Mindy Grossman spoke out about the criticism against the brand’s plus-size mannequin.
“[I’m] angry because of those who are so misguided to say that having larger mannequins are contributing to obesity — seriously? — and resolute as I truly believe that what they are doing with their size expansion and visualization with their mannequins is exactly what is needed in our society,” she wrote on LinkedIn.
China fashion controversy
Amid protests in Hong Kong, a slew of fashion brands came under criticism for marking the region as its own country on its merchandise and website.
Givenchy, Coach and Versace have been in the eye of the hurricane for launching T-shirts that many have found offensive to Chinese sovereignty, causing many high-profile China spokesmodels to cut bonds with the brands. The T-shirts in question show a list of cities followed by their respective countries, but Hong Kong is listed as its own country instead of part of China. Additionally on Coach and Givenchy’s T-shirts, Taipei is listed as “Taipei, Taiwan.”
Fashion glossy releases Back to Black issue
Elle Germany faced a lot of flak post the release of its “Back to Black” November issue, which featured a photo of a white model on its cover. Inside the issue, the glossy carried a spread called “Black is Back,” featuring images of six black models with the text: “never before have models of colour been in greater demand than they are now. But these great women also inspire us off the runway.” Adding to the controversy, model Naomi Chin Wing is misidentified in the spread as Janaye Furman.