The concept of cultural appropriation is always difficult to discuss. Unlike racism or sexism, which are often blatant and done with obvious malice, an offence that results from the act of cultural appropriation frequently sparks a debate rather than a straightforward verdict. With the exception of overt inappropriate practices such as wearing a traditional national dress as a costume and doing a heavy foreign accent while doing so, most instances of cultural appropriation are subtle and can feel ambiguous for most.
In the fashion industry, the discourse is louder than ever. Many labels have been called out for and accused of cultural appropriation, but the sentiment is never unanimous. It's always an issue of whether someone is just taking inspiration from another culture or is simply stealing and disrespecting its collective identity. The latest label to be on the hot seat is the house of Carolina Herrera.
Their Resort 2020 collection, made by newly minted Creative Director Wes Gordon, feature several designs carrying motifs that are said to directly stem from the Mexican culture. Admittedly, the brand has said that the collection is indeed a "tribute to the richness of Mexican culture". But the government of Mexico doesn't see it that way and has accused the fashion house of inappropriate usage of indigenous Mexican patterns and designs.
In a letter addressed to the fashion house (originally published by Spanish publication El País), the Cultural Director of Mexico cited the white dress with the "brightly coloured animal embroideries that intertwine with flowers and branches," which she said is from the "community of Tenango de Doria," as one of the examples of cultural appropriation that's apparent in the collection. As of now, the house of Carolina Herrera has yet to release a statement on what reparations or additional actions would be done in response to the Mexican government's accusation.
We all know that this is not the first time that a fashion label was called out for cultural appropriation. From the infamous Marc Jacobs dreadlocks controversy in his Spring/Summer 2017 show to Gucci's Turban piece, the industry is littered with insensitive practices. Despite this, the debate on whether using elements from another culture can be considered stealing or be passed as homage is still alive.
In a creative industry where you need to churn out new ideas every season, it can't really be avoided to take inspiration from other cultures — especially in the digital age. But designers shouldn't just take inspiration or 'pay tribute' to a culture, they should also include members of the culture they're taking inspiration from as part of the conversation.