On the eve of June the 25th, Kenzo took to the stage, well knackered from the jam-packed fashion month schedule; the audience took to the show with relief. The show however was a far cry from reprieve. Bungee jumpers took to the stage and danced from window to window all dressed in Kenzo’s SS18 brightly coloured garbs. As show stopping as this performance was, the news worthy headlines breezed right past the gravity defying acts to zoom in on the full Asian cast of models. Surprisingly, circus performances, dancing and acrobatic tricks have become the new runway norm whereas model diversity is still a fashion anomaly.
Where diversity has been on the up, and many a fashivist have become hardcore advocates to include people from all walks of life, shapes and colour, Kenzo’s exclusively Asian cast is one of 2017’s shining moments.
But whilst the media has heralded efforts in fashion to curb cultural appropriation and racism – talks between the UN and Indigenous advocates to illegalize use of indigenous designs – these efforts are slight in progress. Although consumers are becoming savvier, able to keep designers on their A-game by tools of social media, cultural appropriation for some cultures still run rampant.
The ‘oriental’ influence, spotted on the runway of some major designers in an understated fashion, seemingly in good taste, high street retailer Topshop took to mass-producing the ‘oriental’ print and cheongsam. First and foremost the term ‘oriental’ is derogatory, backed by Obama’s passing of the legislation that condemns the use of the word ‘oriental’ in federal law. The topic is still up for debate. Oriental is a common term of reference used in the United Kingdom. While its not a term of slander, it has heavy connotations attached to it, “it’s associated with a time period when Asians had a subordinate status… exoticism and with old stereotypes of geisha girls and emasculated men”, says Frank H. Wu, a law professor. It’s evocative of ethnic fetishism, the ‘yellow fever’ moniker, tied to the colonial era of racism.
“it’s associated with a time period when Asians had a subordinate status… exoticism and with old stereotypes of geisha girls and emasculated men”
Despite its racist implications, the term has been lightly thrown around in fashion copy. It’s is meant as an umbrella term to encompass all things from the east, Kimonos, Cheongsams, Geta… items belonging to separate Asian cultures yet many cultural and traditional types of garments that have been thrown on models and ‘cool’ girls as items of appropriation.
Fashion has long taken inspiration and influences from subcultures and cultures alike, it’s an issue worth deliberating of how far one’s influence can go. Yet when fashion condemns particular instances of appropriation, its only fair to address them all.