Marc Jacobs has always been one to play it safe. In his long-held position near the top of the fashion ladder, Jacobs’s public persona has not courted controversy in a big way.
That is, until his September 15 New York Fashion Week show where he featured a predominantly white series of models in false dreadlocks of myriad shades.
Models like Kendall Jenner, Karlie Kloss and Gigi Hadid sported elaborate dreadlocks that were made of wool, custom-dyed and were, most importantly, pieces of extension meant to adorn. People were quite obviously not very pleased.
Accused of cultural appropriation — the dreads mimic black women’s historically significant hairdo — Marc Jacobs replied in a rude and offhanded way about “whatever nonsense” the outcry was about.
Jacobs, somewhat ridiculously, also urged critics to think about how “women of color” straighten their hair — seemingly alleging counter-appropriation in that act.
It is not clear yet to whose post Marc Jacobs made his reply, but it was captured by celebrity news website The Shade Room from Instagram, and has been retweeted and shared a number of times on Twitter and Instagram, both.
The fashion designer has not made any other comment on the fiasco and according to The Cut, neither has he acknowledged the inspiration that black women might have provided in his adoption of the locks for the runway.
As a reply from a world famous designer, it falls greatly short of the responsibilities his position commands.
“And all who cry “cultural appropriation” or whatever nonsense about any race of skin color wearing their hair in a 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.”
The comment by Marc Jacobs is not just arrogant in its assertion that he does not see color, it makes a judgment of significant ignorance that social media denizens have been quick to debunk — that ‘women of color’ do not have naturally straight hair.
The dreadlocks, however, were made with the combined effort of celebrated hairdresser Guido Palau and Etsy-seller Jena who was tracked down by Palau through her online shop where she sells hand-dyed custom dreadlocks.
According to an earlier article on The Cut, Palau commissioned Jena after Marc Jacobs expressed a desire to portray trans director and icon Lana Wachowski’s everyday look on the runway. Jena and her daughter reportedly hand-dyed 12,500 yards of wool in a week, for Jacobs’s NYFW show.
Initially praised in fashion outlets for channeling the spirit of a springtime hippy rave, the same show by Jacobs is now the center of a question of cultural appropriation.
The New York Times style magazine called the dreadlocks ‘cyberpunk’.
In its feature on the backstage hair dressing process, the NYT noted that for Palau the style of wearing hair in colorful dreads invoked “rave culture, acid house and Japanese Harajuku Girls“.
The article then quotes Palau as he explains how Marc Jacobs has taken an everyday feature and made it more fashionable.
“When I was growing up in London in the ’80s, lots of people had hair like this, and you still see girls and boys with their hair like this. The interesting thing about Marc is how he takes something that’s so street and raw or that we’ve seen a million times — but he makes us look at it again in a much more sophisticated, fashionable way.”
With the applause at the Hammerstein Ballroom still ringing in his ears, Marc Jacobs has found himself in a world that is no longer forgiving of casual appropriation and certainly not forgiving of appropriation with intention to ‘sophisticate’.
[Featured image by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images]