These mines so often plundered just keep on giving. And they keep on taking.
Designer Stella McCartney dropped the ball. Perhaps she was too busy patting herself on the back for being a vegetarian who cares about the environment to care about being the epitome of British imperialism in the realm of cultural appropriation.
For her latest runway show at Paris Fashion Week, Stella McCartney’s neocolonial use of Ankara/wax print (patterns and materials found and used in Nigeria and other West African nations) is disappointing. The dismal lack of cultural sensitivity and appropriation are so blatant, you might as well call it trolling. My tilted head and narrowed eyes are similar to the reaction of Yaya Dacosta when her style was described as ‘ethnic’ by a fashionista she was trying to work for on Cycle Three of America’s Next Top Model.
I cycle past Stella McCartney store in Chelsea often. I can assure you that when they see these poorly designed creations, they will also be described as ‘ethnic’ by Lady Rebecca, AKA- Becky. I can also assure you that she still pronounces Kenya as ‘KEEN-YAA’.
The history of this fabric is incredibly colonial. Dutch traders imitated the batik patterns of Indonesia and with the mass production technologies brought about by the industrial revolution, were able to sell fabric back to their colonial subjects much to their general distaste. When sales there dipped, their brightly colored fabric found new markets in West Africa. Over the course of the last century these kaleidoscopic and breathable materials have graced Black bodies beautifully and come to be associated with us at times of leisure, domesticity and high regality.
So along comes Stella McCartney who thinks that she can use this same material, so associated with cultures that hug the equator. She thinks that it’s high time that we enrobe the bodies of skinny Aryan women with spools of the spoils of Africa. How many black African models could she find in Paris for this show you ask? Oh darling… apparently, there was only one available! YES, JUST ONE! IN THE WHOLE OF PARIS!
There are so many Black models I am dying to see blossom into their full potential, but no. Tschan Andrews, Khoudia Diop and Diandra Forrest weren’t considered worthy of the drapery their family members have made so famous. McCartney’s appropriation is reminiscent of designer Marc Jacobs, who wanted dreadlocks on the runway without the black hair. Just like Taylor Swift who wanted the savannah but couldn’t care less about the black lives which sustain the land.
It is frustrating because this is such a missed opportunity, if Stella cared about the fabrics she used for her latest show, she could have instead done something subversive, like fund and produce a showing at Lagos Fashion Week! Using Black models exclusively. Cultivating, promoting and celebrating Nigerian fashion talent. Using fabrics and materials exclusively from West Africa sustainably. Live-streamed obviously.
White people are constantly guilty of robbing us. They dilute our creations until the water is subtly tinged to the color of rosacea with Kool-Aid, but with nowhere enough meaning to make it drinkable. The dynamic has remained unchanged since Prince Albert shaved the Kohinoor diamond down after it had been stolen because it wasn’t elegant and European enough. As a Black queer person, I should be used to this. We fuel the world with our brilliance and never get the accreditation no matter how much we make others slay with fierceness and give them their lives, with faces beat for the gods. No matter how much gold they steal, we stay golden. These mines so often plundered just keep on giving. And they keep on taking.
James Scully puts it succinctly when he says: “A brand in fashion is a promise. If you exclude people, you’ve ruined the promise. You all of a sudden have told someone you’re not worthy. You’re not good enough.”
Black women like myself, including Gabourey Sidibe and Oprah Winfrey, have been turned away from fashion stores who do not think we deserve the luxury they have to offer. Stella McCartney has let us know that whilst our labor, culture, language and fabrics may be inspiring enough to adorn the residents of Chelsea, my pounds belong in Peckham.