Versace uses African models to clean up the guilt

Why Cultural Appropriation on The Runway Is Everyone’s Fault

As I lazily scrolled through my Instagram feed with casual duty — I was prompted by the imagery — bombed on the page of Fashion Bomb Daily. This outlet doesn’t play games when it comes to alerts about the latest and greatest of the industry. This time the vibrant sight was courtesy of Versace’s Fall 2018 collection that featured some offerings that reminded me of why cultural appropriation is the virus that we’re all helping to sustain.

When #BlackPanther began it’s splashy press tour — the first stop was Los Angeles — and I was one of many who assumed that the red carpet was going to be LIT with authentic merchandises that would aptly represent a continent that desperately needs to shine in more ways than one.

Unfortunately — the main cast were either dissuaded from courting designers of African descent or they amazingly didn’t feel the urge to do so — either way it was disheartening to watch epic moments slip away with the blessing of globally-renowned brands — that basically poach ideas from cultures that could benefit from the privileges that allow such actions.

Versace’s Fall 2018 collection is a gorgeous symphony of vividly eccentric hues that are splattered all over fabrics that give silhouettes the authority to dance all over the templates of models that were chosen to assuage naysayers — who can’t stand the sight of appropriation in an arena that isn’t typically accepting of the victims of thievery.

The notion that Donatella Versace made the call to include Black models who look African for this particular showing is a major slap in the face — when you consider that the incentive exposes the guilt of realizing that she would invite rabid responses if she dared to exclusively utilize her standard slew of White models for this assignment.

The creative process is a tricky thing — especially when the pressure to produce the shit that will knock out all the other shit — every single time — becomes your life’s mission. The ability to maintain the momentum that is required by global elites — who attach your name to excellence can be overwhelming in ways that force the urgent need to be “inspired” by The Fulani — prancing around the fields of their birth.


There’s no law against taking a trip to Kano — for a much needed respite and sketching sessions — but what really sucks is how fashion designers with the world at their feet — find it so damn easy integrating the results of their exploration for their profit and fame — and yet as a collective — there is the stringent climate of elitism that is quite potent and almost impossible to reshape.

The poison of exclusion is mainly due to the fact that trends are dictated by those in power and their locations are strewn around the spots of the globe — that are revered for their esteemed existence. No shitholes can apply — unless of course they don’t mind watching their wares paraded in the halls of greatness — while the crowd of greats take notes and mentally choose which items will crown Kendall, Gigi and Bella for upcoming issues.

But as we tolerate the fury of being left out in the cold while those who don’t deserve the warmth we provide — strip us of our tribal decor — there’s also the height of reckoning — that emerges with the dire role we play as natives who aren’t doing enough to support our weary folk.

Former First Lady — Michelle Obama did her part to raise the profile of African designers like Doru Olowu and Mimi Plange — to name a few. I was already aware of both creatives and had attended each of their private showings at events that were related to Fashion Week — and often wondered why — despite such luxurious markings — they and many others with similar backgrounds — weren’t invited to join their peers in the galaxy of prominence.

Michelle Obama in a printed Duro Olowu dress

The answer lies in the wasted opportunities that are too few and far between and the audacity of a movie premiere that celebrates “all-things Africa” being instituted without the firm support for African designers — who have waited a lifetime to assume their rightful place of dominance — in a genre they created and still continue to facilitate without attribution.

We can’t scream at White designers for enjoying the handiwork of their less fortunate counterparts when our loyalty lies with detractors — who already understand how the power of their brand can persuade us to reject our own — for the more starry-eyed version that still doesn’t come close to the original.

The fashion and beauty industry have spent centuries perpetuating the blueprint of an aesthetic that quite frankly — all of us continue to endorse with the avalanche of countless hashtags and the evidence of how our soaring relevance — places us in the midst of like-minded narcissists.

This explains why Versace and other design houses in that league feel confident enough to steal out loud — with the boisterousness that gave colonizers the freedom to invade other lands for their pure delight and nourishment.

This practice of strategic indulgence is still hampering villages in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria — where the tradition of illegal oil extraction has destroyed the land to such a degree that local rebels are taking matters into their own hands.

Rihanna’s beauty line — Fenty — is currently shattering barriers that prevented women of color with darker complexions to seamlessly update their cosmetic bags — accordingly. Her brand has been met with a flurry of excitement and pure joy — as customers swear their allegiance with the promise of abandoning other brands that are now trying to compete — in the name of greed.

Perhaps — this successful outing and focused mentality needs to be transferred to fashion — and how we choose to express ourselves based on our ethnicity and the dispositions of awareness that we claim to adhere to — but when it comes to demonstrations that speak volumes on our behalf — we woefully fail the test.

Until we put our money where our heart is and lift up the creatives who are descendants of an ancestry that’s still bleeding from the wounds of a brutally climatic attack — we have to accept the blame for cultural appropriation — and continue to hashtag the Gucci tote that matches the African-inspired scarf from Burberry.

Expensive imitations will continue to beat the real thing — and that’s beyond inappropriate.

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