Does Marc Jacobs Even Know What Cultural Appropriation Is?

By Michaela Del Viscovo

Leave it to Marc Jacobs to end New York Fashion Week off with an attention grabbing show that left the public flooding their Instagram and Twitter feeds with comments — and not necessarily the type of comments you’d expect from one of Jacob’s beautifully produced runway shows.

After Jacobs sent his models down the runway donning colorful, custom-dyed dreadlocks, there was no doubt about the backlash soon to ensue. People were quick to accuse Jacobs of cultural appropriation. An issue that has become widespread as of late being that more and more people are becoming familiar with the term, and quickly realizing just how much of the issue is out there. Between henna tattoos, wearing bindis as a fashion statement, or rocking a kimono, we are guilty of appropriating cultures without realizing, even if it’s not intentional. Marc Jacobs is an intelligent guy who has been in the industry for quite a while — there’s no way he didn’t think of this ubiquitous issue that pervades in so many realms of the fashion industry. But, somehow, someway, he didn’t intend for it to be controversial.

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Jacobs’ immediate idea for having his models walk down the runway in locks was inspired by transgender filmmaker Lana Wachowski. Yet, he paid no homage to African-Americans, the culture in which dreadlocks originally originated from; And when it comes to cultural appropriation, attribution is the main forgiver. Often people question the difference between appropriating a culture versus being inspired by a culture, and rightfully so. The difference is that being inspired by a culture means some level of attribution is expected, otherwise meaning a credit to the culture that is being influenced. Something that Jacobs failed to do. In fact, when he responded to his critics, his words were incredibly disappointing:

He wrote:

And all who cry “cultural appropriation” or whatever nonsense about any race of skin color wearing their hair in a particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color or race- I see people. I’m sorry to read that so many people are so narrow minded…Love is the answer. Appreciation of all and inspiration from anywhere is a beautiful thing. Think about it.

Clearly we have a misunderstanding here, Mr. Jacobs. It’s quite ironic that a designer with a business mind aimed at the youth doesn’t fully comprehend an issue especially pervasive within youth. All Jacobs had to do was acknowledge that the dreadlocks were indicative of black culture, and pay some homage. He acted utterly insensitive to the issue, it’s as simple as that. Yet, after combined criticism for the models as well as for his response, the designer finally decided to apologize via an Instagram post:
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Though Jacobs’ intent might not have been downright malicious, it was his lack of empathy and carelessness that only heightened the problem. Had he simply acknowledged black culture from the beginning than the amount of criticism would have certainly been lower. Even if he never credited a culture, but responded in a more forgiving and sensitive manner after the backlash, then a good percentage of the public would have been satisfied.

You can’t please anybody in the world today. When it comes down to specific cultures and elements within them that people get very protective over, there’s no winning. But, whilst living an uncertain world in which everybody walks on eggshells, it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.

Michaela Delviscovo

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