Is Dior's New Collection an Example of How Luxury Brands Should Incorporate 'African-Inspired' Designs?
Some are crediting Dior for "doing their homework" while others aren't quite as convinced.
Last Sunday, luxury French brand Dior unveiled its latest collection Cruise 2020, which fully incorporates West African wax print. They unveiled the collection during their first ever "destination show" on the continent—as the New York Times describes it—which saw the brand flying out several celebrities, including Lupita Nyong'o for a fully-branded fashion experience in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Naturally, questions around the creation of the collection and the appropriation of African styles began to arise.
Was this yet another case of a major fashion house ripping off African designs without involving actual Africans? Will these "creations" be sold for exorbitant prices without benefiting its originators? We've seen this happen with countless fashion labels in the past, including Stella McCartney, which faced immense backlash back in 2017 for ripping off styles that our "aunties had been wearing for years," as well as brands like Marc Jacobs, Valentino and Louis Vuitton—just to name a few.
Dior also faced backlash when they posted about the line on Instagram ahead of the show, calling Morocco the "leading country for fashion in Africa," according to a post from Nigerian-Chinese-Thai model Adesuwa Aighewi who walked the show. As the supermodel shared in an Instagram post, she immediately had a meeting with the label's Creative Director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, to discuss the issue, and she was met with a positive response.
"Honestly it felt really great about speaking up to just ask the simple questions. I couldn't walk a show where multiple Africans had voiced discontent," she wrote. "After our talk, Dior took down the original caption and made sure the conversation was about the preservation of fashion techniques that are being lost was the focus, artisans who need proper recognition for their craft and the need for a conversation between each other."
She added that the line has consulted African brands, like the UK-based gele expert Daniella Keji Osemadewa Ajayi to learn about the history of traditional garb during the line's creation.
"Discussions are critical to understand and move towards a positive future where there are less barriers and encourage an Africa where the artisans are properly treated and valued as they are in the West," she added.
It's always fair to demand transparency from big brands on matters of cultural exchange. As Vanessa Friedman wrote in The New York Times article "It is always dangerous for a European luxury brand to parachute into a continent with a colonial history," and with the fashion world's reputation of stealing from Africa, it's understandable that folks would be skeptical about any line from a Western brand claiming to be "African inspired."
Nonetheless, some online are crediting Dior for "doing their homework" while others stand by accusations of appropriation—proving once again that matters of cultural exchange and ownership are never easily black and white.