Another fashion month, another panoply of distasteful cultural appropriation by fashion's favorite designers. After the recent controversy that Marc Jacobs sparked with his be-dreaded models, we revisited some other times fashion got cultural appropriation wrong.



7 Times Fashion Got Cultural Appropriation Wrong

As an industry that’s certainly no stranger to controversy, you’d think that, when possible, fashion bigwigs would at least try to avoid inciting it. And yet, season after season, countless labels continue to culturally appropriate—whether with their clothes, shows, or campaigns.

And during this past NYFW, the culprit was Marc Jacobs. For his SS17 show, he sent a deluge of white models down the runway wearing dreadlocks—a hairstyle typically reserved for people with afro-textured hair—and, as a result, has found himself at the center of numerous incendiary headlines. And in the days since, the Internet has zeroed in on two more troubling facts: the distinctly faux, rainbow-hued dreads, which were a rather insensitive display of black culture; and the dearth of black models in his show.

Then, when you thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, Jacobs decided to weigh in on the controversy himself, responding to the criticisms on his Instagram with the rather dismissive explanation that he doesn’t “see color.” After which he added that, anyway, women of color are culturally appropriating when they straighten their hair (a comment that has since been deleted).

marc edited

Jacobs has since apologized for his brevity and ignorance which, while certainly appreciated, is simply no longer enough. Apologies notwithstanding, these acts of racial insensitivity continue to occur at a merciless pace. Which leaves us wondering whether the fashion industry even cares to stop profiting from marginalized groups. Read on for some of fashion’s biggest, racially insensitive faux pas—and decide for yourself.

1. That Time Victoria’s Secret Put a Headdress on The Runway

Unless you’re being forced to at gunpoint—or else by a really scary elementary school theater teacher—there is absolutely no reason you should find yourself wearing a Native American style headpiece. Yet that was the exact accessory Karlie Kloss found herself in while walking down the runway during the 2012 Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Shortly after the incident, Michelle Spotted Elk explained to CBC, “When you see a Lakota chief wearing a full headdress, you know that he was a very honorable man. He was a leader. He did a lot of honorable things for his people… It also has religious significance. With them, there’s not a division between spirituality and their leadership.” And while we’d like to give Victoria’s Secret the benefit of the doubt, given the lingerie that Kloss wore with the headdress, we have a feeling that a religiously significant “honorable man” was not the look they were going for.


2. When Valentino Put White Models in Cornrows and Tribal Dress

A year ago in Paris, Valentino presented their SS16 collection, which they described as “primitive,” featuring tribal masks and African inspired looks, in a runway show that was nearly devoid of any black models. The show, which featured traditional black hairstyles and African dress on a cast of models that lacked much diversity, was a rather lackluster ode to “wild, tribal Africa.” Yet despite the onslaught of backlash and criticisms they received, the fashion house has continued to feature its models in cornrows.


3. Riccardo Tisci’s Problematic Runway Theme

Riccardo Tisci also took a rather problematic theme to the Paris runways after presenting a FW15 Givenchy collection titled “Chola Victorian”—referencing a typically derogatory term for Mexican women. Again, Tisci added insult to injury by sending a not-at-all-diverse selection of models down the runway with gelled-down baby hairs—a beauty trend that’s typically referred to as “ghetto” when worn by Black and Latina women.


4. That Time KTZ Stole Traditional Inuit Designs

For FW15,  streetwear brand KTZ presented a menswear collection that consisted of exact replicas of garments traditionally worn by Inuit people. Salome Awa, whose great-grandfather invented the original design, called out the brand for using the designs without her family’s consent. Though KTZ eventually issued an apology to Awa, they still ended up selling the clothing.


5. Oh Goody! Versace Used Black Models as Props

When Donatella Versace and Bruce Weber came together to showcase the “spirit of Chicago” for their FW16 campaign, they ended up prompting a downpour of controversy for not only using models of color as props, but also for neglecting the race issues, such as police brutality, that have been plaguing the city for years. Instead, the campaign simply showcased the house’s expensive garments—and little else.


6. When Gigi Hadid Wore an Afro on Vogue Italia 

Denoting power and self-love, afros have long been an important symbol within the Black community, and especially during the civil rights movement. Which is why it made total sense that Gigi Hadid was met with immense backlash after appearing on the cover of Vogue Italia with a kinky wig and unusually tanned skin. A far smarter move would have been hiring a black model with naturally fro’d hair. Especially since black women are often deemed unattractive for wearing that same natural hairstyle.


7. Remember When Dsquared2 Named a Collection After an Indigenous Slur?

The Canadian duo behind Dsquared2 released a line of tribal printed garments for their FW15 collection that they referred to as “Dsquaw”—a derogatory term typically used against First Nations women. The collection, which was presented in Milan last year, featured fur coats and vests decorated with tribal prints similar to traditional aboriginal designs and was described as “an ode to America’s native tribes meets the noble spirit of Old Europe.” Many fans voiced their disappointment on Twitter, particularly that the brand neglected to reference any of the many issues that Indigenous women often face.

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 02: (BRAZIL OUT, NEW YORK TIMES OUT, T MAGAZINE OUT, UK VOGUE OUT) A model walks the runway at the Dsquared2 show during the Milan Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2015 on March 2, 2015 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Images via, CBC News, Next Management blog, Fashionista,, and The Huffington Post.

Stay tuned to Milk for more fashion faux pas. 

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