Culture (noun): the customs, beliefs and a way of life of a particular group. It’s what shapes your core. Something that cements your foundation before the imminent acceptance of homogeneity, courtesy the modern world. The multiplicities aren’t a basis for division (unlike what some politicians may argue) but rather a melting pot for exchanging values & broadening horizons.
Fashion and beauty, the two mighty pillars of self-expression are intrinsically tied to one’s cultural heritage. Be it maximalism, bohemian influences or one of Gen Z’s core-laden aesthetics, everything manages to circle back to some or the other culture. Could be an amalgamation as well, knowingly or unknowingly. But when designers intentionally honour their roots and actively dissect references, it’s not only a win for the industry altogether but also the communities which’ve influenced the collection.
Let’s have a look at some examples where designers have honoured cultures sans going the appropriation tangent:
Prabal Gurung’s Fall 2023 RTW
Fierce tailoring, ample texturing and a whole lot of metallics defined Gurung’s recent outing at NYFW. But the clear standout was undoubtedly the sindoor placement at the middle part of a few models, signalling a nod to the designer’s Nepali ancestry. With minor experimenting on the shaded front with silver, white and pink alongside the usual vermillion, it was refreshing to see a traditional element take centre stage on a revered global platform.
Gaurang AT LFW 2022
Gaurang’s offerings run parallel with the mysticism of our culture, given the label’s penchant for diving into lost art forms, embroideries & prints. There’s always a gajra in sight, a bindi or a stack of red bangles adorning the hands of the models. Sometimes altogether. The fact that the label never tries to vivify its designs as per the sayings of the west is what separates Gaurang from its contemporaries.
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Winner of the 2019 LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize, Thebetsile “Thebe” Magugu’s sartorial storytelling is rooted in his home country South Africa. With subtle incorporation of beadwork, striking colours and graphic prints native to the multicultural hub, his artistry often features doeks, i.e. the draped headwrap sported by South African women. Widely celebrated for his contemporary tailoring, a backstory laced with some cultural correlation of sorts is always an accompaniment with his work.
Sabyasachi’s Heritage Bridal 2023
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The Sanskrit quote ‘Sada Saubhagyavati Bhava‘ translates to ‘May you live a blessed married life’ and is said to the bride shortly after the wedding in Indian cultures. Sabyasachi’s inscription-decked dupattas have been around for quite a while, the most famous instance being Deepika Padukone’s bridal ensemble showcasing the same.
Also making an appearance here is alta, a dye made out of beetle leaves and sindoor, which signifies fertility and sensuality. Often sported during traditional Indian dances like Bharatnatyam and Kathak, the hand dye’s long-standing alliance with our culture spans centuries.
In Poor Taste
Appreciation or appropriation, you decide. The slope is slippery and you’re advised to tread with supreme caution. Pictured here is a look from the Gucci Fall 2018 collection featuring an iteration of the turban, a religious headgear native to Sikhs in the Indian subcontinent. Neither was there a Sikh model fashioning the same in the lineup nor did the collection pay homage to the community in any possible way. Which ultimately reduces the same to a mere prop, cancelling the cultural relevance of the same. It’s in poor taste indeed when big fashion houses go on to commit a such faux pas.
Some light research and browsing a few Wikipedia pages can go a long way. Just saying.