Marc Jacobs closed New York Fashion Week with his Spring/Summer 2018 collection. I have to give it to the man, he's got ideas! He's also known to push boundaries; that's a creative right--I get it. But, sometimes it's not pushing boundaries and more like pushing buttons. Last year he was criticized for putting dreadlocks on white models. This year, he used turbans on all his models and no one seems to be complaining, well, except me.
When I first saw the clad of turban-wearing models, yes from afar it looked like a good idea, but there was something uneasy about it. At first, I wasn't able to grasp why this was bothering me, but after reading the inspiration behind it, I was turned off. Like come on Marc! Turbans have a history with the Western world that's linked to orientalism. The problem with orientalism is classism and racism to mention a few. Also, for me in particular, when a white man tells the story of a woman; black, brown or woman period, it raises my eyebrows. He gets to tell his creative story, I'll give him that, but know that it will be interwind with mine when I see my experiences being reflected on your models.
It's no secret that Western designers have continuously taken clothing inspiration and ideas from Africa, Middle-East, and Asia for some time--think pants, three-piece suits, pajamas, harem pants, and tunics to name a few. How do you think Paul Poiret, French clothing designer, tried to liberate Western women's restrictive clothing into pants? It was by taking inspiration from 'orient' women. Western fashion, furniture, and jewelry (Cartier) designers have followed this path of inspiration for centuries; taking from Africa, Middle-East, and Asia. The issue here is not being inspired by ideas but when you take established concepts and redefine them with a superiority mindset. It becomes more exclusion then inclusive; placing that idea, person and thing as foreign permanently to giving little or no credit at all. Let's not also forget the economic advantage that has come from taking of cultures who are deemed inferior and have a history of being exploited and discriminated against. This is in part of what makes orientalism a major problem. I'm not saying that's what Marc is doing here, but the use of headwraps in the West by money affluent people comes with a history. I know those headwrap scarves are not going to cost $25 which is probably the average cost of a headwrap for the masses who actually wear them if not everyday but as part of their culture occasionally.
Turbans have played a big role in orientalism as an item regarded by designers 'exotic', again exclusion, not inclusive for over a 100 years. Also, can we stop using the term 'exotic'? Back with Paul Poiret, he popularized the turban in the West among wealthy socialites and people who consider themselves 'eccentric' in the early 1900's, to only go out of style(not considering that wearing a turban to some people is a way of life that never goes out of style, which makes it disrespectful to say) to becoming popular again in the '60's, 70's, and on--think Kate Moss, and Sofia Coppola, whom Marc Jacobs took inspiration from for the turbans, that in my view are a clear nod to African style. Like really? Kate and Sofia? His full inspiration references a mental vacation 'somewhere'. That 'somewhere' looks a lot like Africa considering some of the clothing designs too.
These are not the early 1900's or 60's. We're in 2017 and we continue to have a serious problem with orientalism, appropriation, racism, classism in particular within the black, brown and Asian communities. No, I don't agree with those who say 'this is exactly what fashion needed'. Have you not have a clue of what's happening in said communities? I don't live on cloud nine; I have real shit to deal with everyday with a scarf on my head. You can't just give me a diverse set of models in turbans and call it a 'diversity day' when although not stated but clearly seen: 'African style' turbans were inspired by Kate Moss and Sofia Coppola whom can be considered privileged women and their turbans products of orientalism--I'm not interested in this type of 'diversity'. Now, I mean privileged in the sense Kate Moss is a white woman, even if she came from nothing and both not wearing a head covering as a way of life. It's a hard truth, but yes, often you get it easier if you're light skin even within the brown spectrum and don't wear head coverings.
What showgoers see, what editors see is African style coverings being chic and exotic, they see orientalism. They classify foreign being 'cool' momentarily. They don't see that some of us wear head coverings as cultural and/or religious way of life and that in many times that comes with discrimination and violence. Is Marc Jacobs going to fix that issue for me? nope! But, it will make it worse because when wrapping your head is no longer 'cool' to the 1%, my lifestyle is no longer relevant and it puts it back into being excluded. To really normalize diversity like the turban, it has to be done every fashion season and I don't see that happening with Marc Jacobs or any other designer. Where was Halima in this New York Fashion Week's runways? Nowhere. Truly I was expecting to see her in shows with brands that promote 'feminism' and 'every woman' like Alice & Olivia and/or TOME. Lastly, this further encourages people to misappropriate cultural clothing when you skip the real source of inspiration. Again, we're living in a time where we take things from the roots, at least for me. Perhaps his inspiration would have been more befitting if the value of time and space were actually given like a real trip to Africa and take inspiration from the source, maybe not. But somewhere lies a fair cultural exchange, I hope designers find that. So, is he pushing the 'Orientalism' button in his turban styling? It's a yes from me! Maybe it's mama teaching me not to take scraps; give me my whole value or move along. What are your thoughts?
Written by Mariana Aguilera