When fashion journalists wrote about Virgil Abloh’s appointment to creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear they avoided crediting his aesthetic to black culture. They refused to correlate Virgil’s influential street-style design aesthetic as key to his appointment even though the new generation of men have replaced brogues with sneakers, chinos with nylon track pants, and down-feather vests with hoodies. This also applied to women’s wear as well. On the streets of Paris you can find multi-colored Ankara prints mixed with denim jeans, styled with large earrings and chunky boots. It’s an everyday look in Harlem and Lagos, but designers and journalists tip-toe around crediting the look to black style when it pops up on the European runway. But today people question why designers and journalists white wash the inspiration and discount its origins and whether it is due to a racist ideology.
Stella McCartney White Washes Ankara Prints
For example, Stella McCartney received significant backlash over her Spring 2018 fashion show when she used Ankara prints and traditional African designs. The criticism came in conjunction with the fact the designer chose to cast only one black model.
“Are we going to talk about Stella McCartney using Ankara prints, meanwhile there was only ONE African model on her runway?!” asked writer Amarachi Nwosu on Twitter.
When confronted Stella McCartney defended her Spring 2018 show negating criticism that she appropriated the look from black culture. Instead Stella McCartney put out a statement via proxy saying her inspiration for the Ankara prints came from its “culture and heritage” in the Netherlands.
“The prints were about celebrating a unique textile craftsmanship, its culture, and highlighting its heritage,” Stella McCartney chief marketing officer Stephane Jaspar told Fashionista via email. “We designed the prints in collaboration with Vlisco in the Netherlands, the company that has been creating unique Real Dutch Wax fabrics in Holland since 1846 and helps maintain its heritage.”
Stella McCartney’s explanation disappointed critics. It’s clear to many her designs and the use of Ankara prints were related directly to African fashion. It raises the question why designers feel uncomfortable acknowledging an African aesthetic as inspiration.
British-Nigerian model and actress Eku Edewor, one of many who responded on McCartney’s Instagram, explained that just because the Dutch Wax cloth has a history in the Netherlands doesn’t mean its evolution in West Africa can be discounted.
Criticism Against White Washing Black Style In Fashion
Today, black fashion and its influence on high fashion is a hot topic in the fashion industry and on social media. The best example is the “ghetto until proven fashionable” t-shirt spotted during fashion week last month. The t-shirt kicked off a series of articles how black fashion & style loses its ghetto stigma when it is appropriated by white designers.
An article written by Wanna Thompson, a 20-something year old writer from Toronto, frames the topic of black girls from the hood as the fashion industry’s most appropriated muse.
From the projects to the runway, I’ve witnessed the endless looks that have been created and/or influenced by black women in the ghetto being stripped down and sold to the highest bidder in an effort to erase its origin. What was once billed as ratchet, has been widely appropriated by those who comfortably watch from the sidelines and regurgitated into some watered down, Instagram Baddie aesthetic.
Diet Prada, the no-mercy Instagram handle that exposes injustices in the fashion industry, recently called out buyers at Saks Fifth Avenue and Jeffrey New York for crediting Demna Gvasalia of Vetements for “putting street wear on the map”.
Diet Prada challenged the credit given to Demna saying,
“..to credit Vetements with putting streetwear on the map is a diss to the history of streetwear culture where clothes were made at accessible price points for more than just people outside of a fashion week circuit.”
How White Washing Black Influence In Fashion Contributes To White Supremacy
I’m going to call this out for what it is, a form of white supremacy, a racist ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior to people of other races. In the case of fashion, the changing aesthetic is documented to reflect a white person as it’s originator in an effort to maintain white superiority in history.
How we document fashion today will teach future generations fallacies about where the inspiration came from and why it became popular. It unjustly steals credit from one group of people and gives it to another who do not deserve it.
I hope this conversation rages on. The fight to document honestly how and why fashion evolves, who shaped it and how it added value to our culture is a worthy one, and necessary to help our society achieve equality.