Marc Jacobs Criticized for Cultural Appropriation

By: Elizabeth Klein

Marc Jacobs closed 2016’s New York Fashion Week with a runway that everyone is talking about.  But this year, the designer’s outlandish clothing was not what had viewers buzzing–this year, it was about the hair.

At the show, Jacobs’s models all donned a head of pastel colored dreadlocks, created by Etsy shop owner Jena Counts.  This sparked controversy concerning whether or not Jacobs was culturally appropriating, since he used dreadlocks on white models while citing his inspiration for the style as Lana Wachowski–a white woman with locs of the same style–and fashion trends from the Harajuku district of Japan. When asked, Jacobs and his team denied any ties with Rasta culture.  This elicited outrage from many, and protesters claimed that this is cultural appropriation at its finest: taking ideas or means of expression from a culture without permission.  What made matters worse is that the two inspirations that Jacobs cited are cultural appropriators themselves.

Faced with this backlash, Marc Jacobs took to Instagram in attempt to explain himself, but it just added fuel to the fire.  He stated, “And all who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or 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.”

Angry readers argued that Marc Jacobs is not “colorblind.”  In truth, most of the models at his show are white.  Twitter user @MyLifeAsAD puts it plainly by Tweeting “Marc Jacobs doesn’t see color……until it’s time to select the models to walk his runway.”  Others cited a picture of a box of Marc Jacobs’ foundation that’s been floating around the Internet for a few weeks.  It shows almost two dozen bottles of foundation, except all but three are for white skin.  These examples have people questioning just how “colorblind” Marc Jacob truly is.

The second point brought up by many dissenters on social media is that when black people adopt the styles of white people, it’s cultural assimilation, not appropriation.  The difference between the two is that when black people “straight[en] their hair,” they’re doing it to fit into the white culture of which they are constantly surrounded.  They do it because their natural hair is not always as accepted in this country as white hair is, and to blend in and make themselves look more professional, they choose to assimilate.  But when white people wear their hair in dreadlocks or cornrows or any other culturally black style, they’re being offensive because they do not need to take styles from African-American culture to fit into society.  Twitter user @dopuhmean expressed this by saying “I guess this means People of Color (POC)  can wear our locs freely now and not be blocked from a promotion or job in general?

Others cite the example of when Disney star Zendaya wore her hair in dreadlocks to the 2015 Oscars.  Giuliana Rancic infamously commented on the style, saying “I feel like she smells like patchouli oil. Or weed! Yeah, maybe weed?”  Except when the white models like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid walking the Marc Jacobs runway wore dreadlocks, they were praised for being “edgy.”  

This difference is what is ultimately making people so mad.  White people have the luxury of being able to wear whatever they want without worrying about prejudice.  But black people have to work on adopting aspects of white culture to curve some of the bias they receive.  And this is why the dreadlocks at the Marc Jacobs show were met with so much controversy. Many people feel that it is unacceptable for white people to be praised for looks that they took from minority groups, when at the same time, minority groups are discriminated against for those very things that make their culture what it is.