Why Walter van Beirendonck Is Just Perpetuating The Appropriation Shitstorm

January 16, 2014 • Fashion


So you’ve likely seen it already by now, but look! Surprise! More white people in head-dresses! Scandal. Outrage. Perhaps as a response to Karl’s trip to Dallas, Walter van Beirendonck sent out a model with a head-dress as well, only this time, with the spray painted plea to end racism.

Allow me a moment to pour out a drink so I can really take in this moment. Let me really just try to understand this call for help. Is it a joke? i think it’s a joke. It’s a genius, terrible joke, and it makes me want to claw my eyes out.

When we make public statements about appropriation and racism and all the isms, fashion kids kind of talk out of their ass. I say this with love, I am calling you in, I want you to know I get it. We can discuss couture and how it is so much an art form, how idea making is art, how the production of aesthetics is art, but at the end of the day, fashion is a $1,200,000,000,000 (count them zeroes, let’s pretend it’s our bank statements) industry. Artsy fartsy designers aren’t the best selling — remember LaCroix? Schiaparelli? Now, you’ve got to be scandalous or incredibly basic to succeed (shoutout to Kors, #1 in America), we feed the fame monsters to borrow the power of their name. Clothes? They’re power. They represent power. They represent visions of class, however you imagine that. New money or old, it still plays the game of ca$h money and capitalism.

What is so terrifying and ultimately so interesting about fashion is that it eats all subculture and takes it into itself. Nothing is authentic because everything can be immediately reproduced, which is why we get Celine minimalism in store at Zara way before we get it off the rack at Barneys. Punk? Sponsored by VOGUE. Power changes and is replicated and adopted in fashion, all the time. Mimicry of subcultures evidently makes you more interesting, and therefore more powerful.

When Karl Lagerfeld puts a model down the runway in a head-dress, he took the power from Native Americans and made a mask of it for fun. When Walter van Beirendonck put a white model in a head-dress — even if it said STOP RACISM in big red letters — he’s doing the same thing. Satire is a dead fish in fashion when you are considering the power play. And this one? It’s funny. van Bierendonck sent out a model with a well intentioned message, but by placing it on an actual headdress, and placing that headdress on a white body, even if he meant well, he was just perpetuated the shitstorm.

At best, he got more coverage, perhaps claiming him to be a satirical fashion activist for calling out Karl. At worst, well, he might be disingenuous about the whole thing, but he got that press coverage. In the end, it’s still perpetuating the insulting use of histories and bodies that aren’t the designers to claim. It’s still tokenism; it’s not funny, it’s not changing anything, it’s not giving the power back to the people it was taken from. But I suppose if his Google alerts blow up and he makes more ca$h from playing cloudy grey politics one way or the other — he has won in the end.

  • This is so important. It is such an empty statement.

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