karl lagerfeld

Fireside Chat: Cultural Appropriation

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The fashion industry is routinely harangued for so-and-so designer’s latest cultural appropriation. What is cultural appropriation?  As defined by Susan Scafandi, a Fordham University law professor and author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, it is the

“Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from
someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another
culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols,
etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been
oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive,
e.g. sacred objects.”

Most recently notable, Native American headdresses are sure to stir the waters (whether from H&M or Victoria Secret). Noticing the attention these stunts garner, Urban Outfitters almost bi-annually produces a controversial headline-grabbing garment of some sort, and while not all of these (*ahem* Kent State) involve cultural appropriation per se, it is certainly a tick mark on their list of tactics. However, one of the most high-profile perpetrators of cultural appropriation, is none other than Chanel designer (and superstar himself) Karl Lagerfeld (here is his headdress).

Arguably one of the most productive designers today, Mr. Lagerfeld works as creative director for Chanel, Fendi, and his eponymous line, resulting in quite a few shows when you start to tally, not to mention, the larger-than-necessary number of looks Lagerfeld usually incorporates in each. Lately, he has adopted the practice of designing Metiers D’Art shows (acting kind of like a pre-fall collection) around their upcoming locations (Dallas, Mumbai, Edinburgh, and Austria to name a few). In Dallas, we were given boots, buckles, and prairie skirts galore. Edinburgh brought kilts, puffed sleeves, and collar bibs. Mumbai sported tikkas, lots of gold flourishes, and sarong sandals (despite preparing for autumn weather). And about a month ago, we received Lagerfeld’s “take” on Austria.

The question I’d like to explore is how Lagerfeld’s “take” on different cultures co-exists with cultural appropriation (for better or worse). Further, why has there been no decriers of cultural appropriation accompanying the Salzburg release? What makes us feel (righteously) that headdresses are offensive, while the Austrian — shall we call them yodeling? — hats are just cultural appreciation? How does the majority/minority influence constitute our opinion (and from what perspective do we consider what makes a minority). Does Lagerfeld’s German ancestry provide him an out in regards to Austria?

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So why would cultural appropriation or borrowing be a problem? It would seem that fashion, that steadily evolving amalgamation, depends on borrowing as a form of transformative imagineering to survive… Yet, cultural appropriation can be interpreted as the wealthy majority robbing the disenfranchised of their only commodities (and meanwhile misrepresenting them). It’s also a bit of a power trip, since cultural appropriation serves as a reminder of those who have been in power versus those who were historically marginalized. You can read here for more information.

So what does Lagerfeld do that would make him the exception to the rule (besides his signature look)? I like to think that Chanel is such a beloved global brand that everyone feels a part of it, meaning that rather than marginalization, edification ensues. Still, let’s be honest, when I wear a tikka to go out, I am going to look culturally insensitive. If I dress in the new Salzburg line, I might seem eccentric, but not insensitive. Is it because both American and Austrian culture are predominantly “white” and historically empowered? Then again, India was dominating the power food chain way back when, and far as forming a people majority, has America beat by nearly 1 million. Given that China and India have the two largest world populations, can Americans borrow from them? Should we feel sorry for the Austrians who come in at 95th in terms of population (and never borrow from the Vatican, at 245/247)?

Alternatively, is it okay for Lagerfeld to use these parts of culture because people trust he will do justice to their history? Or do they not feel that he is robbing them and accept that he is melding cultures? Thus, they give him the okay, and it’s not cultural appropriation. Then again, how do people give an okay, here? Just by not dissenting?

How can we positively borrow from another culture in a way that the galloping masses can digest and regurgitate it (as fashion so often does). Is there a positive way to experiment with reference to foreign sources? And if not, what entitles fashion (which is seemingly global) to unjustly ignore the customs of different groups? I am of the opinion that fashion should be a conglomeration of the palate of the world. But if it is, can only locals use it, and/or wear it?

I would love to hear your input. Clearly I haven’t solved anything here, but when I look at the Austrian feather hat, it seems to me the marginalization of a richer culture for the kitschy mass consumer (and let’s throw Sisi in there for good measure), or if it’s not, why is anything else? Thanks for reading!

Madeline meets Dubai in South Bend

DSC_0018This week in South Bend, a squirrel frolicked amongst the hedgerows I found this wall:DSC_0006

I also found the Chanel 2015 Cruise collection and its ingenious pairing of tunic/ pant sets. (These photos link back to the Chanel website, where I got them).

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This collection is an education on the “piquant pant.” Yes, you could run through the mountains bare-legged (probably unshaven) in your Salvation Army shirt-made-dress, but why would you when you can look perfectly chic and tailored in 1. see-through geometry pants? 2. sailor swag pants? 3. Harem pants (all day long)? Frankly, I’m ecstatic. Manrepeller termed them unnecessary but deeply necessary pants.” I would have to agree, but would go one step further. On the strawberry walnut salad that is the outfit, it seems that Lagerfeld’s ankle-cinched pants are the dressing. You could go low-cal boring, trying to choke down spinach and iceberg without something to whet your whistle, but the taste simply won’t be “piquant” without the wisp of vinaigrette. I got my first taste of this melangé last year in India.

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Pay no attention to the sunscreen-slathered blonde-haired reflector beam who in her Lawrence-of-Arabla-cultural-appropriating frenzy decided to shop for tunics kurtas at the open market based on color combinations alone (because I am one size to fit all). The point is India rocks the “tunic” cinched- ankle combo, and using the term “regional” loosely, I feel like as Lagerfeld is known to do, he kept this in mind designing Chanel’s 2015 Cruise looks.

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So for those of us who want to look Chanel at the supermarket (as our consumer spirits should now be more than blitzed for), how can you bring the look home short of a Sailor Moon tweed tornado? Here’s my interpretation, un peu francais, n’est pas?

DSC_0019I started with color. A hybrid pair of sometimes pants, maybe leggings, and a bright dress set the tone. The hat and collar reminded me of Madeline (twelve little girls in two straight lines sounds almost like a runway), and the scarf was a piece which preserved the Dubai vibe while remaining distinctly Parisien. What do you think?
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DSC_0020Outfit Details:
Dress: GAP outlet
Scarf as Belt: Talbots (thank you Mimi)
Pants: The Row (ebay) also shown here
Shoes: Anthropologie
DSC_0008Spotlight on Accessories:
Hat: Antiquing
Collar: I cut this off of an otherwise frumpy Primark clearance shirt (and it was well worth the pound I paid for it!)
La Petit Prince Watch: Madrid find!
Ring: Fossil

I’m sharing this to my favorite link-ups, Patti’s Visible Monday over at Not Dead Yet Style and Trend-SPin at The Fashion Canvas. Check it out, or even better join in!

 

Fashion Late-ly

My loyal followers and fortuitous visitors! I have emerged from the depths, a happier Orpheus, bursting with song (and silent anxieties) since my brief (an edifice of law school’s vise and unsolicited grip round my throat), ripened, has relinquished my bonds!

Yet during this struggle, I have shown that I run the most miserable attempt of a fashion blog, seeing as I left the grid just long enough for both Fashion Week 2014 AND the Oscars to pass me by. Let’s just say I’ve been cogitating.
I mean is anyone really sure how they feel about Chanel’s grocery store?

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Once I get past wanting every piece of uniquely-punned Chanel merchandise, the high culture/ low culture/ ubiquity of human experience really starts to play with me. Also, while Karl Lagerfield may think that one should wear Haute couture as if you were “going to the supermarket.” There seems to be some speculation as to whether he even knows what that is like… For more on the show see here.

Moving right along McDonalds at Moschino…

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Well, I can tell you it clearly WASN’T a whopper. Jeremy Scott’s bold choices are nothing more than a clever ploy aimed at expanding his market. But you can’t go from selling to the 1% overnight. While they may not have made it quite to the billion marker yet, Business Week reports they’ve managed to borrow quite a few. 

It came as a great surprise to absolutely no one that my favorite from fashion week was none other than…

Burberry.

Come on, it featured the Bloomsbury bag. Unfortunately, the real advertisements were lost in a ill-fated file backup. Luckily, Burberry sent us one of the promos before the crash and revisions. Here’s how it was supposed to be modeled:

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Pretty great, huh?

Regarding the collection, I love the mix of Monet hues with the Scottish-looking shoulder throw rugs. Tuck your blanket into your belt for a practical and fashionable snowy day. Particularly, I love the color scheme because it is so conventionally Spring, but somewhere in the midst of Labor Day I think that people forget what snow looks like.

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Maybe we favor dark colors in Winter because we’re afraid we will be lost in the snow otherwise, but when I look outside across snow colored fields, the color is remarkably subdued. In the sunless places, peoples eyes are pastel blue and Burberry’s color scheme seems to recognize that. At the same time you can be the wisp of a figure trekking across the moor with your caftan, you can sit inside with it wrapped around you, watching the snow fall as you drink tea over light stories with shadowy undertones. Bravo Burberry. I think this collection really channeled that for me. While Chanel channeled its roots with requisite tweeds and pearls, Burberry’s approach was subtler. The Bloomsbury Set wrote in the time around World War I burst with all its dreary determinism, giving us if nothing else, the Trench coat. It’s nice to see Burberry hearken back with a new interpretation of the period piece.

More to come on Fashion Week, the Oscars, post offices, and more!