Lately it seems as if there is always one cultural insensitivity or the other to apologize for in the fashion world.

Most recently, a Belgian designer, Walter Van Beirendonck has been praised for his not so subtle dig at Karl Lagerfeld following a Chanel pre-show in Dallas that showcased a controversial Native American headdresses as one of its pieces.Van Beirendonck sent a model onstage with a similar headdress as showcased by Chanel but inscribed his with red ink that screamed “Stop Racism”. The American-Native American fashion sensitivity also occurred in 2012 when a Victoria’s Secret model Karlie Kloss wore a hugely exaggerated Native American headdress with a fringed leather bikini at one of their shows. This seemed inappropriate because of the cultural disrespect towards Native American women and Victoria’s Secrets had to apologize and cut out that part from future screenings of the show.

Walter-Van-BeirendonckJanuary 16It seems we continue to hash out this issue and according to Tara Conley, Founder of Media Make Change it is one of two things, either people really don’t care about the outbursts or they are too naive and think that it doesn’t matter – and what we have to do is continue talking about it till someone listens.

Yes, cultures would always influence each other and be a reason for certain inspirations but I think people have to always be aware that, as with everything in life, there is a limit to which you can go in matters that concern other people. We’ve seen people even take this cultural insensitivity out of fashion and into the real world.

Remember when actress Julianne Hough went for Hallowen with a black painted face because she wanted to dress as Nigerian born actress Uzo Aduba who acts as Crazy Eyes from Orange Is The New Black series.

rs_560x415-131121075009-1024.Julianne-Hough-Uzo-Aduba.jl.112113_copyThen a group of Italian fashion figures attended a party themed “Disco Africa” and showed up with faces painted black.

Hallowood-2013-party-giampaolo-sgura-photo-zhanna-romashka-DSCF6989-1It’s hard to say why the fashion industry continues to collide with this issue, and it has gotten to a point where I feel apologies are not just enough. 2013 was filled with outbursts about cultural insensitivity and it seems we have dragged it on into 2014. We did a post recently on an “African Urban Vision” editorial by Vogue Accessory, and where it is always a pleasure for African culture to be positively recognized by international brands, I was disturbed most of the day yesterday by the question, “Why couldn’t they have used a black model instead of painting a Caucasian one with “tribal representation” or whatever?”

FAB Editorial Prada, Versace, Burberry & More In “African Urban Vision” Editorial For Vogue Accessory By Lucia Giacani (1)There can never be a shortage of black models or Native American models. There can never be a shortage of ideas that DO NOT have to border on cultural insensitivity. So why do we keep coming back here, waiting for a public apology?

Why is this even something we have to keep pointing out? Do we have to wait till yet another magazine decides it would be a good idea to make a Caucasian model look African for an African inspired fashion editorial?January 161-001Even Beyonce has had her face painted black in an African inspired editorial for L’officel back in 20111, and it doesn’t make it right when a black woman has her face painted either.

beyonce-blackface-lofficiel beyonce-lofficiel-blackface21-520x562553972_10151513090119602_2122423429_nIs there no end to this madness? We’ve had too many apologies from Vogue Netherlands, Numero, L’officel, and Vogue Paris, and the truth about cultural insensitivity is it is no longer enough to apologize. There is a difference between cultural influence and cultural insensitivity and I wish designers, fashion photographers and even the unconsciously accepting audience would understand this.

What are your thoughts on cultural insensitivity in fashion?



3 Responses

  1. grace

    Dear Adesola, I just want to quickly address a part of your write up which I find disturbing. That part I have put in inverted commas “We did a post recently on an “African Urban Vision” editorial by Vogue Accessory, and where it is always a pleasure for African culture to be positively recognized by international brands, I was disturbed most of the day yesterday by the question, “Why couldn’t they have used a black model instead of painting a Caucasian one with “tribal representation” or whatever?” ” I’m a bit confused as to why in one breathe you condemn racism and on the other hand you have a problem with a Caucasian model used in an African inspired shoot. I hate it when we constantly build sentiments and play the victims when we black people are as racist as the white. Black models are styled in many editorials in different cultural outfits and you don’t see anything wrong in that, but when a Caucasian is used for an African inspired shoot, you loose sleep over it. while I get the points you are trying to make in some parts of this write up permit me to say that ART is colour blind!!! It’s time we stopped feeling sorry for ourselves and move on. There are white South Africans; there are white people who have nationalised in Africa, just like the black Africans who have nationalised in other continents. if you truly want to stop racism, start from within you and your reactions; be more colourless; accept people for who there are and not the colour of their skin.

    • Adesola Ade-Unuigbe

      Hello Grace,

      Thank you for taking out time to read and express your thoughts. You are right in a lot of ways, I find that black people have mastered how to play the victim card more than any other race. I also think that this is because we still have a lot of room to cover and the media seems quick to aggravate sore wounds or give us a reason to play the victim.
      I have no problem with a Caucasian model being used in an African inspired shoot, I do however have a problem with a Caucasian model being “altered” to look more African. I also have no problem with a black model being used in a Western editorial, but why must her skin be lightened or made to look more white?
      Black is black and white is white, maybe we just need to remember that more.
      I hope you understand where I am coming from and would love to hear more on your thoughts concerning this issue.

  2. grace

    Hello Adesola,
    I still believe that how ever a model is made to look in a shoot is the prerogative of the people creating the art. They have an image in their minds and the joy of creativity is to see your thoughts come to reality. so if I decide to ‘alter’ a model to reproduce my thoughts, I will do just that without any racial bais, otherwise it’s not mine. And like I earlier pointed out the Africa of today does not belong the BLACK skinned man alone anymore, There are millions of WHITE people from Africa now and millions of black people who would call African who don’t know their roots anymore. Charlize Theron is African remember? so what if she decides to go ethnic one day and colour her face, will that be a problem? You know why I took particular interest in this part of your write up? it’s simple. the first time I saw that editorial I got excited, I got inspired to create something with Ankara, I saw a new take on how to style up your Ankara; I saw the Ankara fabric and pieces in a different light. it made me as a person appreciate the beauty in our pieces, which is something that most youths of these days don’t bother with anymore. I personally believe the creative minds behind that shoot were mainly trying to portray while creating beautiful imagery. Don’t forget that this Ankara we are talking about comes Holland and those people are not black. But all the same well done.


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