Haven’t fashion always been a business that gets inspired and then appropriates from other cultures? A business centered within the fashion capitals in the west trapped in a eurocentristic way of working. Particularly a system dominated by white people with money and power described as an elitist industry. But have we really asked ourselves if there are various ways of appropriation and what it really means?
Some weeks ago the georgian and Russian based Gosha Rubschiniskiy held his fashion show for mens spring summer 18. The audience were probably gasping as they saw that the designer had chosen to appropriate a certain popular pattern. Not gasping about the fact that he’s already done it again, but about the fact that this time the source of the pattern belonged to an upper class english label called Burberry. Once appropriated by the chavs ( british underclass style and subculture group). One can’t help but wonder , is this reversed appropriation or is it even that? My analysis would be that it’s not reversed but usually uncommon due to the fact that a lot of people and the media have been discussing this issue at large. But seldomly does one hear where the word actually derives from.
As I can remember ( cross my fingers, hopefully I’m right) I first heard about the word in a academic setting, actually it was in art history class. The teacher asked us students “Do you know what it is ? what it means?” And everybody said ” Yes, of course”. Then she went on and asked us one more time ” But do you know that the word was first coined within the art history sciences?” and suddenly people were schocked. Of course appropriare (italian) means that you take something and make something of your own. In the 20th century a lot of artists used to appropriate other artists works (usually before their time) kind of like a copy but seen as something of a more new and updated version. Today it is often explained as the act of taking other groups culture and selling it to make profit without acknowledging where it first came from. Often called cultural appropriation. In the lastest issue of Arena Homme ( a magazine focused on male fashion) the writer Michael Collins talks about the act of streetwear designers such as, in this case Gosha working with recasting luxury with the help of colonising. ” I’m aware that streetwear designers may disagree in their bid to recast luxury, colonise it , and build a modern elitism by producing less in an age of more.” What Michael means I would think is that Gosha in the same way as other streetwear designers like Vetements have to some extent appropriated streetwear culture made it luxury and in that sense what happens is a monetary way of colonising. For example , do we look down on people any longer for wearing hoodies even if its worn in an elegant setting? Event? Probably not. Never have we seen as many rich people and the upper class stocking up on streetwear. Of course in this case the designers and names that I have talked about have referenced their particular inspiration. And in the words of Lotta Volkova appropriating is seen as our times “remix”.
I just can’t help but think that in Gosha Rubschinskiys case the upper class might be appropriating the working class? As we know its foremostly been the other way around. If we see it in terms of the famous theorist Thorstein Veblén way of thinking. That it used to be the poor striving for the need to look rich. Now it being the other way around and these designers belonging to a predominantly rich system it really stirs up the pot and makes one rethink what appropriation is all about. Beyond it being used in debates and alledges of white people stealing from marginalised and subordinate groups to make profit.
Spending my weekend in London I myself became a subject of using clothes not from my own descending culture. Without much thought I decided to walk into a store that was selling cloth from India that appealed to my eyes. I asked the woman in the store if they had any Indian clothes for men and she looked at me with shook eyes. Saying ” No men’s clothes are for men”. Which I then anwsered back to in a gentle tone declaring that I understood what she meant, but was truly sure about wanting a male Indian attire. The reason I wanted a male version was due to the feeling of gender fluidity based on my western standards. Even though I’m an african descendent woman. I have always yearned to wear clothes from India yet never thought about it being wrong. Could a black woman be accused of appropriation? Of course. But was I ? No I wasn’t. On thursday evening I went to an art exhibition and party in London where people were complementing me for my attire. And often it was men from different backgrounds and walks of life. Preferably described as hipsters. By me always reciting the origins of my attire and explaining the reason for wearing it in full respect nobody felt bothered. It made me think about a chronicle in BoF I read last week with the words :“The world is vast and information is free, but appropriation without citation by those in power erases the culture being referenced.” making me realise that even though I did appropriate i never really fully did it. As I chose to pay my respect and credit my beloved Indians by not erasing them from my party outfit of choice.
But lastly, why the rise? Could it be due to a paradigm shift and the havoc of it? As the times are changing so are people and as we know with change comes confusion. And a deep sense of wanting to belong to someting or someone. And world economics , please let us not forget about the corruption of money and the power that comes with that. Let’s just perhaps blame it on the money? And power.. for that part.
Text: Rosa Cruz