February 17, 2012 § 2 Comments
I was perusing the collections from New York Fashion Week (read: perving on Proenza Schouler) when I started to think about the idea of cultural appropriation. Basically, is it ok to draw a direct reference from a culture not your own. It’s very much a grey area, and open to interpretation. In my own work I’ve been inspired by the cultures I grew up surrounded by in South Africa and Hong Kong, a cultural inheritance that is not necessarily mine, although it definitely had a formative impact in shaping who I am, as well as my design sensibility.
But then I have always used other cultures as a reference, interpreting them from my own point of view. So maybe more recontextualising what I see rather than ripping it off. It seems insensitive (and somewhat colonialist) to just take someone’s cultural heritage and do with it what you will.
What sparked off this train of thought was the new Rodarte collection. Inspired by the Australian Outback, it was awash with references to the dusty plains of the outback, aboriginal prints, and the hardworking “Aussie” spirit.
Clearly Laura and Kate Mulleavy (the duo behind Rodarte) have never been to Australia.
I’ve always really liked Rodarte, their collections always trod a fine line between crazy and wearable, and carried a fine art sensibility (though their last Van Gogh inspired collection also seemed a bit flat). This time the dresses were frumpy, and the colour’s had no impact. As Suzy Menkes put it in her review for the International Herald Tribune, “where was the underlying tension, the horror movie sex-and-gore that the sisters brought to earlier collections? For all the exceptional handwork creating a slim shearling dress or chunky cable knits, the show lacked vigour.”
Though apart from the general blah-ness of this collection, and the fairly lame, cliched image of Australia it portrayed, it was the use of Aboriginal dot painting in some of the prints that I found most disappointing. Especially considering under Australian Indigenous Culture and Intellectual Property Laws the use of these patterns is highly regulated. And it’s just not ok. Be inspired by it by all means, but don’t splash it all over some (very pricey) dresses, unless you’re planning on maybe compensating the people you were “inspired by” in the first place.
But have a look for yourself, perhaps I’m being overly sensitive. And as I pointed out, everyone is influenced by what they see, including myself. But in all fairness the indigenous people, both in Australia and across the rest of the world, have dealt with enough without seeing their cultural heritage trickle down from high fashion runway’s to the racks of Urban Outfitters or Zara.
And for the record, Proenza Schouler killed it. Again.