Fashion Week Flops

I never would have thought that I would use the word “disgusted” in regards to the four weeks in the fall meant to be an artistic and creative haven for lovers of all things fashion, but this year, I just might have to. When the Spring/Summer 2016 collections first kicked off in New York on September 9, I was dangerously excited.

Gigi Hadid for Tommy Hilfiger

Gigi Hadid for Tommy Hilfiger

Having gotten into fashion relatively recently, this was only the second fashion week that I would be following with a close eye. Givenchy’s show was the first I clicked through on Vogue Runway, and, much to my surprise and disappointment, it felt glum and lackluster, with only the most basic of black gowns being passable. And although I remained hopeful, the streak continued throughout London (where my favorite was, surprisingly, Topshop Unique, a store at which I can actually afford to shop) and Milan, and ended, not with a bang but with a sickly, brown-colored chiffon whimper, in Paris.

Avery Blanchard for Tommy Hilfiger

Avery Blanchard for Tommy Hilfiger

In 2016, we can certainly expect the return of early-2000s glamour (*gags*), with lots of unfitted, cheap-looking garments with slits on slits on slits. When fashion comebacks occur, there is typically some sort of new,  innovative spin, like when crop tops made their triumphant return into many’s wardrobes as formalwear. But this time, it just felt like designers pulled out their 2004 rejects, styled them modernly, and sent them down the runway. The worst offenders were Rag & Bone, for which there are no words, Yeezy, which literally looked like American Apparel’s designer’s poop-stained laundry clothes, and Prada, which travelled Grandma fashion back in time a decade. Even Elie Saab, who I normally rely on for unapologetically romantic dresses, apparently tried to follow this new trend of looking-like-you-don’t-care, and fell way short. So, instead of wallowing in my negative emotions towards almost the entirety of the SS’16 collections, I want to shed some light on an unsavory trend that’s slowly been developing under the surface of some of the industry’s most established houses.

Jasmine Tookes for Tommy Hilfiger

Jasmine Tookes for Tommy Hilfiger

Over the summer, I wrote an article for the Oxford Tradition’s magazine, The Visitor, tracking diversity, or the lack thereof, on the runway. And there seems to be some genuine progress, with Balmain walking a whopping nineteen models of color in Paris this year. Discussions about cultural appropriation have come to the forefront with the help of celebrities (and fashion powerhouses) like Nicki Minaj, Amandla Stenberg, and even Anna Wintour herself. For these two reasons, and far too many more, I was genuinely astonished when I saw both Tommy Hilfiger and Valentino, the latter I had previously considered to be one of the pillars of high fashion, send collections down the runway which, at worst, reeked of racism.

Aya Jones for Valentino

Aya Jones for Valentino

In the age of technology, unprecedented access to fashion week is granted to the poor through Snapchat, which broadcasts live feeds sent in by models and other elites of backstage happenings. Early on, before I knew just how repulsive SS’16 would be, I was clicking through the NYFW live feed to see footage of Eugene Souleiman, Hilfiger’s hairstylist. Souleiman’s goal was to make the models look like cool “it” girls who went to the Caribbean and returned with a high fashion twist on local styles. In other words, the definition of cultural appropriation! And it certainly showed on the runway, with the vibrant Rastafarian colors existing in sharp contrast to the pale white skin of Hanne Gaby Odiele and Rianne van Rompaey. Even worse, perhaps, are the spray tans and lip injections displayed by the Hadid sisters and Hailey Baldwin (an attempt at looking black). Of the sixty one “Caribbean-inspired” looks sent down the runway, only fourteen were worn by black models.

Even more disappointing to me was Valentino. Vogue writes, “Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli were thinking deeply about Africa when they were designing for Spring”, and continues to suggest that the strife of the thousands of refugees fleeing (very different) situations of distress in their respective home countries influenced the collection. This is offensive not only because there are fifty four countries in Africa, each with unique political and cultural landscapes, but also because Valentino walked eighty white models, all with cornrows, down the runway in tribal prints. Nine more were black. What bothered me the most about Valentino’s collection was that it could have been truly beautiful, but it was marred by the ugliness of trying to make white models black.

Kadri Vahersalu for Valentino

Kadri Vahersalu for Valentino

Ine Neefs for Valentino

Ine Neefs for Valentino

In 2015, it is unacceptable to pretend that models like Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn, Jasmine Tookes, Aya Jones, and Imaan Hammam cannot carry a runway. Putting white models in cornrows as a type of fashion statement is inappropriate. In a video posted earlier this year titled “Don’t Cash Crop my Cornrows”, Stenberg stated; “Braids and cornrows are not merely stylistic. They’re necessary to keep black hair neat”, and goes further to say, “Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high-fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves,”. The designers behind Tommy Hilfiger, and especially Valentino, should be ashamed to call themselves artists as they fail to represent or support the marginalized whom they claim to support and represent. I can only hope that next year, there will be a better showing.

— Charlie Hobbs, Staff Writer

Posted by on October 15, 2015. Filed under Arts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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