Marc Jacobs is no stranger to controversy and now his Spring Summer 2017 collection has been lambasted for its cultural appropriation of dreadlocks.
Designer Marc Jacobs has never been one to shy away from controversy. It seems to follow him, from those adverts with Dakota Fanning to using underage models on the catwalk (the limit is 16 years old, the girls were 14). Once again, Jacobs stands in the eye of the controversy hurricane with his Spring/Summer 2017 collection, which was showcased at New York Fashion Week.
Jacobs brought 90s rave culture to the catwalk with outlandish, saccharine pieces. Sequins here, metallic there and sky-high platforms for all made the collection a magpie’s dream. But unfortunately, few are talking about the collection itself. The focus has largely been on the hairstyle for the show: multi-coloured dreadlocks atop a parade of mostly white models such as Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Karlie Kloss.
The designer asserts that he was inspired by Lana Wachowski, director, trans-activist and proprietor of a fuchsia-dyed dreadlocked bob, whom he featured in his latest advertising campaign. Boy George has also been mentioned as an influence as well as Harajuku girls from Japan. As yet, no black signifier has been cited as a consideration for the style. Collaborating with iconic hair stylist Guido Palau and a seller on Etsy, Dreadlocks by Jenna, the team dyed the locks 300 different shades to match the colours of the collection.
When the images were posted on social media, users were quick to call out cultural appropriation of a traditionally African-American hairstyle. As Alix Tunell at Refinery 29 points out, styles such as locks are usually regarded as unappealing – until they are taken in by fashion, put on a white model and suddenly become the most followed trend: “By and large, we as a society have stereotyped dreadlocks as being dirty and unprofessional – unless they’re worn by white women.” Black hair is a battleground and there is growing consciousness around it. Articles such as Why it’s not okay for white people to have dreadlocks are the norm, giving designers and stylists no leeway to call ignorance on the matter. Cultural appropriation must be considered and considered with great sensitivity in this day and age, and fashion cannot exploit it in the name of a new collection or trend.
Responding to comments on an Instagram photo, the designer wrote: “All who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin color wearing their hair in any particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color 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”
His response is as controversial as the dreadlocks themselves, as he calls out beauty ideals that have been perpetrated by Eurocentric ideals of beauty. Jacobs maintains his typically defensive and reckless attitude to the criticisms of his decisions, and those waiting for an apology will be waiting for a very long time. But as we have seen the show and seen the fall out, there is hope that the fashion pack will approach this style with great respect and due consideration. In the words of Jacobs himself, “Think about it.”