Tribute or copy?
Controversies related to cultural appropriation, plagiarism, racism aren’t new to fashion world. Labels like H&M, Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Valentino and Dior have been caught in the eye of storm over these allegations time and again. And the latest to join the bandwagon is the American label Carolina Herrera who’s been accused of copying embroidery techniques and patterns specific to certain Mexican indigenous communities in the resort 2020 collection. Last week, Alejandra Frausto, the cultural minister of Mexico, wrote a letter to the brand demanding an explanation. The label’s creative director Wes Gordon who visited Mexico was inspired by its beauty.
According to the letter, the collection’s floral and bird embroidery on strapless gowns belonged to the community of Tenango de Doria in Hidalgo. We got a panel of designers to understand what’s the right way to reference and how crucial it is to get the anthropological relevance right.
Designer Nachiket Barve sees it as a dichotomous situation. “While on one hand, when you look at Hindu gods on the bath mats, it’s deeply insensitive and on the other hand, people have referenced Indian paisley for centuries. It’s all about the reinterpretation. While it’s exciting to see that there are no boundaries today. Be it Japan or India - everyone listens to the same kind of music. However, when it comes to design, one can’t blindly cut paste as it’s about having one’s own spin on it without being literal,” says Nachiket.
All in all it’s imperative to do a fair amount of research and get the socio-cultural context right, if one’s using religious iconography. However, a certain level of cultural referencing is important to take the creativity to a new level.
Designer Anand Bhushan says, “From a design point of view, cultural cross-pollination is important to a certain level. For instance, within India, you can use any motif from any part of the country. One has to be aware as every motif and pattern has a reference point. The bigger question is how do you take art and culture forward? Everything will always have a reference point. One needs to execute it a responsible manner.”
Designer Nimish Shah sees Mexican government’s intervention as a knee jerk reaction as the original source of inspiration was quoted by Carolina Herrera. “What could have been better, if they had diverted the profit to that craft group. While one respects UN’s agenda of cultural identification and equality, the state and the government need to create an art and craft catalogue. Fashion is about having fun and not a trophy for saving humanities. While the cultural misappropriation, say at Prada store window, is definitely wrong thing on all level, taking a craft as an inspiration is a great thing and helps them boost their economy,” says Nimish.
With pressure mounting on brands to churn out off-kilter designs season after season, the offerings are often eyeball-grabbing without a deeper story. Designer Arpita Mehta opines, “If I am using a motif from another culture or country which is not my own, I’d get into the details - be it bags, accessories or garments. One has to do a thorough research,” says Mehta.
Brands accused of copying and racism
Dolce & Gabbana ad
The label’s controversial ad last year depicted a Chinese woman, bedazzled in D&G jewellery, using chopsticks to eat pizza, spaghetti, and an oversized pastry called cannoli.
Prada and racism
Prada had released an apologetic statement after being accused of using blackface imagery on products in a new collection. “#Prada Group abhors racist imagery,” the statement read on Twitter.
Dior and representational diversity
Last year, Dior’s advertising campaign inspired by Mexican women, drew criticism for starring Jennifer Lawrence and a lack of representational diversity.
Valentino and cornrow hair