Marc Jacobs launched his Spring/Summer 2017 collection at New York Fashion Week with a bang.
The star-studded catwalk featured Gigi and Bella Hadid, Irina Shayk, Karlie Kloss, Stella Maxwell, Kendall Jenner, Jourdan Dunn and Taylor Hill; in pieces that were apparently inspired by steampunk and rave culture. We saw short-shorts, sugary pastel prints, heavy embroidery, and metallic trench coats.
Oh, and those rainbow-coloured dreadlocks.
It’s all anyone can talk about today, fashion folk or otherwise. Silly Marc Jacobs and those dreadlocks.
Almost immediately after pictures from the show went live, the voices of the internet rose from a quiet murmur into a frenzy. People were outraged.
It was “racist”, they shouted, “cultural appropriation at it’s worst”! “Dreadlocks are inexplicably linked to black culture, and putting them on the heads of white models is nothing short of ignorant! Boycott Marc Jacobs!”
Media commentators pulled awkwardly at their collars and wondered what to say. Fashion people looked at political people looked at celebrity people and they all kind of shrugged their shoulders. Damned if you comment, damned if don’t.
But before anyone could approach the topic in a thoughtful and sensitive manner, Marc Jacobs burst forward to make a statement of his own.
Oh boy. Bad idea, mate.
Jacobs took to his personal Instagram page to reply to the growing list of angry comments left underneath one of his images from the show.
“…all who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin colour wearing their hair in any particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticise women of colour for straightening their hair.
“I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see colour 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.” – Marc Jacobs.
And so the situation became much, much worse.
“…we out here dying & being criticized for our clothes, hairstyles, etc. but when y’all do it, it’s stylish & everyone wants to do it,” wrote one IG user.
“Who said that culture is shared though? Did I miss the white people’s meeting? Nah fam. It’s not to be shared. Culture is not a costume. You think it’s ok to wear certain hairstyles but wearing a hijab isn’t ok? What about a native american headdress? They belong to someone’s culture,” said another.
At this stage, the stylist behind the dreadlocks, celebrity hairdresser Guido Palau, stepped in to offer his explanation on the inspiration behind the ‘dos.
“We also looked at different movements like rave culture, club kids, acid house, travelers, Boy George, Marilyn, and all sorts of things. He also really liked the idea of the volume in the hair—that’s where it all came from.
But that’s what’s so interesting about Marc—he takes something that is so street and raw and then he looks at the idea of proportion, the idea of the color, the kind of girl.”
No mention of black culture. Hmm.
Marc retorted with two more Instagram posts – PUT DOWN THE PHONE, MARC – re-posting two articles in his defence, one from The Washington Post, and one from Time.
Unsurprisingly, this only fanned the flames.
The Time article, which was provocatively titled Don’t rage over dreadlocks while African-Americans are dying in the streets attracted a multitude of frustration from fans, who angered over Marc’s seemingly insensitive attempt of deflecting his fashion faux-pas with a serious political issue.
“Nobody has the right to tell anyone what they should and should not be ‘raging about’. Cultural appropriation is an important issue too!” read one comment, with others pointing out that it’s possible to, ya know, be concerned about two things at once.
But still, Marc battled on against his outraged audiences, uploading a shot of (one of the few) women of colour to walk his show, Ellen Rosa, in the now infamous dreadlocks. “Such a nice and beautiful girl…” he wrote, clearly hoping to point out that his (almost) all-white show was inclusive after all.
Gasoline, meet fire. (Post continues after gallery.)
Just a few hours ago – late Sunday night, US time – Marc lay down his sword and admitted defeat.
“I have read all your comments….” said his picture post, with a caption underneath apologising for his ‘lack of sensitivity’.
“I thank you for expressing your feelings. I apologise for the lack of sensitivity unintentionally expressed by my brevity. I wholeheartedly believe in freedom of speech and freedom to express oneself though art, clothes, words, hair, music…EVERYTHING. Of course I do “see” colour but I DO NOT discriminate. THAT IS A FACT!”
It’s unsure if Jacobs really grasps how tone-deaf his responses to the controversy have been, but one thing is for sure: his ‘sorry-not-sorry’ posts have not won him any fans.
…and I thank you for expressing your feelings. I apologize for the lack of sensitivity unintentionally expressed by my brevity. I wholeheartedly believe in freedom of speech and freedom to express oneself though art, clothes, words, hair, music…EVERYTHING. Of course I do “see” color but I DO NOT discriminate. THAT IS A FACT! Please continue to express your feelings freely but do it kindly. Nothing is gained from spreading hate by name calling and bullying.
Across the world, the reactions have been mixed. Did it seem utterly ridiculous to expect the high fashion catwalk – notorious for outlandish themes and fantasy narratives – to be interpreted as a political statement? Or did this attitude just reinforce the ignorance so many people have towards cultural appropriation and the pain it causes? Or both?
One thing IS for certain, and that is that this in an extremely complex and sensitive issue.
The world still has a long way to go when it comes to equal treatment and representation of people of colour, and the Marc Jacobs controversy has been instrumental in bringing forth these sentiments to the surface of mainstream media.
What do you think? Should Marc Jacobs have been slammed for his use of dreadlocks?
(Feature image via Getty 2016).