Thursday, January 16, 2014

Walter Van Beirendonck Takes On Karl Lagerfeld

Cultural misappropriations seem to be a trend. Perhaps it's the ease of cross-cultural access and sharing engendered by the shrinking globe due to techno-connections. If that's the case, then this digitally-bred level of cultural appropriation--when is it simply sharing?--will most likely only grow, as will, then, the calls of misappropriation and cultural insensitivity. Recently Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck sent a "reading" directed toward Karl Lagerfeld in response to the Chanel's pre-fall 2014 collection, which included Native American/Western motif and even the use of a headdress.

Van Beirendonck's message is to "Stop Racisim!," and there is a need for concern and consideration when it comes to cultural (mis-)appropriation; however, the larger issue to me is understanding if one feather is always one too many. Putting the use of the headdress aside, would the Chanel collection be anymore less-racist? I believe that the use of the elaborate headdress is troublesome enough, but even without those pieces the Chanel collection might stand some consideration in terms of use of Native American cultural imagery; are people only upset because of the headdress? If so, that anger is a bit shortsighted in the understanding of cross-cultural image-sharing/theft/misuse/appreciation. My point is that a concern about misappropriation, particularly in fashion, is warranted, real, and necessary; however, we shouldn't let a headdress, no matter how culturally insensitive its use, become a red herring that keeps us from thinking about the larger issue of increased cultural connection, enabled by rapid tech growth and usage, in our ever-shrinking world--a world in which a young girl in Idaho might see a bindi for the first time on a famous actress in India and like it enough, feel connection enough, to try wearing one for herself despite little-to-no understanding of the history of culture connected to the symbol. Images today are increasingly decontextualized and rapidly shared with the global, fashionable, and impressionable masses.

That said, should we not also consider Walter Van Beirendonck's influences? What can we make of his own tribal-esque fashions? What is the history--past, present, future--behind such tribal-futuristic imagery, and isn't it just as important to consider? The issues spurred by cultural appropriation, and the pitfalls therein, are only going to become more complicated as our globe continues to shrink due to technological connections. Particularly in fashion, what is an integral part of one person's identity can easily and rapidly become another's adored item of cultural bricolage as they work to create their own 21C identity. As images become dislodged from context, so too do the histories and indentities associated with those images; how, if at all, might this be corrected? Is a "correction" needed, or might that only be culturally restrictive? Is all cultural appropriation bad? These are some of the challenging questions we have to start asking on a regular basis. Perhaps Van Beirendonck's feathered "GROWL" is an image that seeks to spark such dialogue and consideration.

No comments: