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At Thursday’s Marc Jacobs show, hair stylist Guido Palau gave all the models dreadlocks made from dyed wool by an Etsy crafter. He rattled off a long list of inspiration for the look, including Boy George (white) , Lana Wachowski (white), ‘80s ravers (largely white), and Japanese Harajuku culture. When The Cut asked him if rasta culture was an inspiration, his response was, “No, not at all.” Cue a firestorm of backlash.
CW: So when I watched the Marc Jacobs livestream yesterday my first reaction was, "Wow, that's visually stunning" followed by "Oh shit, those are dreadlocks." You said pretty much the same thing in our Facebook live.
EB: Yeah, I always really look forward to the Marc Jacobs show for the clothes, the spectacle, and the hair and makeup. When other brands are doing "natural, fresh, youthful" beauty looks, Jacobs always goes balls to the wall, and even when he did that no-makeup makeup look, it was the most extreme version of that possible. This time around it was pretty disappointing, though, and not for the reason you’d hope it would be.
CW: What's most disturbing is that when Guido was asked point blank if the look was inspired by rasta culture, he said no. I think that while people still would have rightfully called out cultural appropriation for showing a black hairstyle on an overwhelmingly white cast, it would have gone a long way if he would have at least acknowledged the inspiration.
EB: Fully. As Essence pointed out, he tossed out a number of points of reference, including Marilyn Manson, Boy George, and ravers, and none of them were people of color. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due.
CW: There's been a recent history of this by old-school, high-fashion hair dressers. Like when Eugene Souleiman did the baby hairs look at DKNY a few seasons ago, and Guido putting cornrows on white women in an Africa-themed show for Valentino.
EB: Yeah, Guido has done this a few times...
CW: They seem arrogant about it almost. Like they get called out, but still do it.
EB: Last season, one hair lead openly complained to beauty editors about getting called out earlier in the week for a look that many felt was culturally appropriative. It definitely seemed like his first thought wasn't, "Hm, maybe I should listen to why people are pissed off about this."
CW: Fashion got a pass for so many years before everyone on Twitter had the ability to weigh in. I was talking to an editor who went from a Condé publication to an indie site; she was terrified to criticize Guido. If you look at Vogue.com's coverage of the hair, there is not a single mention of appropriation. Sites like Harper's Bazaar approached it non-directly, saying, “We wonder what the internet will think of this hair?” without calling it out outright.
EB: It's not news that fashion journalism skews very heavily toward protecting and catering to big names in the industry, but yes, exactly. There are degrees of looking the other way. Of course, this isn't purely on hairstylists. There are a lot of people involved in making a show, including, you know, the designer.
Oh, coming in hot — The Cut just reported that Marc Jacobs responded on Instagram to the backlash.
Marc wrote: “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.”
Oy, Jesus. I mean, this is the most standard fashion response, reverting to the “inspiration” argument, but it’s just wildly uninformed.
CW: Oh holy fuck, he just made it worse. For decades, black women felt they HAD to straighten their hair to be accepted, and many still do. I mean, there are still rules about not having certain hair styles like dreadlocks in the military (although some of the rules where softened after a backlash) and teens being sent home from school for wearing their natural hair.
EB: I always wonder how the models feel about shows like this. They have no say in what sort of hair and makeup is applied to them, but they're the ones who have to wear it out on the runway. I'm sure some of them felt uncomfortable here, but a modeling career is fragile enough as is. How many of them would actually reject a casting coup like this and boycott one of the biggest shows of fashion week?
CW: Yes, they're in the worst position of all here. They could lose a career over protesting it.
EB: Although, not to be too cynical here, they would also get a ton of press for doing so.
CW: True, and they'd probably be embraced by a lot of brands who are trying to be more aware. I'm optimistic that fashion can get there eventually. While it's quote-unquote boring for the people who cover runway beauty trends to hear, "Oh, we're just leaving every girl's hair texture the way it is because the designer wanted to embrace individuality," that is obviously a great thing. It's been happening for several seasons now. Putting every model in the same hairstyle and having them march down a runway in terrifying android-like formation is becoming more the exception than the rule. But the biggest designers like Marc still make the biggest statements, and this one isn't a good one.
UPDATE 9/19: Marc Jacobs responded over the weekend via Instagram:
…and I thank you for expressing your feelings. I apologize for the lack of sensitivity unintentionally expressed by my brevity. I wholeheartedly believe in freedom of speech and freedom to express oneself though art, clothes, words, hair, music...EVERYTHING. Of course I do “see” color but I DO NOT discriminate. THAT IS A FACT! Please continue to express your feelings freely but do it kindly. Nothing is gained from spreading hate by name calling and bullying.