Cultural Identities or Lack Thereof in High-end Fashion Print and Digital Campaigns

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While There is no patent of symbols and styles from foreign culture., embracing symbols of another culture outside own’s should not be frowned upon, however those cultural inspirations need to be clearly recognized for its original origin. American fashion designer, Marc Jacobs featured many non-white models wearing dreadlocks in his Spring Summer 2017 fashion show and digital campaign. Many times, dreadlocks and other natural hair styles are seen as unprofessional but when designers do it, particularly white designers, the look is normalized and trendy. Jacobs did not credit whom this hairstyle is historically seen on or the cultural identity that it belongs to, yet he uses the style for commercial gain.

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The luxury fashion industry is known for exclusivity and awe of setting the best trends and prints season after season. With that comes inspiration of colors, patterns and cultures from all over the world. But for whom? Since fashion’s start in the 19th century by Charles Worth (both from modern fashion class) to Yves Saint Laurent using the first black model on the runway it has been catered to an of upper class white audience. In recent years many luxury fashion designer have been in heavy spotlight for cultural appropriation and lack of representation in digital and print campaigns not just in the US market, but in Europe as well.

Cultural identities are governed by media. Identities classify people’s ethnicity, social class, gender, etc with the same themes of some identities being more aceptanted that some, grating unearned privileges, or even some identities that saturate the media and are thus over-represented in the media. Identities can also refer (use another word) to one’s sense of belonging or based on specific characteristics. In Kellner’s Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics between the Modern and the Post-Modern, looks at identity through a postmodern lens. Identity was a function of the group as a whole, but in modernity, identity was a function of creating a particularized individuality. Kellner argues that television integrates individuals into social order, dominant values and behaviors, just as I argue that luxury fashion does. Designers introduces hundreds of styles and trends season after season, heavily circulated through digital and print campaigns. Luxury fashion integrates it’s audiences into the dominant looks of white women or cultural appropriation and essentially Eurocentric ideals of beauty and style forced on people of color.

Cultural appropriation is using cultural artifacts, symbols, clothing and other indicators, outside of one’s own identity or culture for their own benefit or gain. It is usually when the dominant group adopts cultural signs and symbols of a minority group and gets used outside of its original context, like a halloween costume. In the context of luxury fashion, contemporary uses a specific hairstyles, patterns and prints. Designers present these styles as though they are new and unseen. While they make be new to those designers, it certainly are not to those identities that they belong to. When one brand of significance does this, then other brands then go to do it.

Marc Jacobs an American fashion designer, well known for being the creative director at Louis Vuitton (1997 – 2013) and his own label Marc Jacobs. In September 2016, during New York Fashion Week, Marc Jacobs premiered his Spring-Summer 2017 collection. This collections was inspired by streetwear, rave culture, Boy George, Harajuku 80’s grunge. After the collection was debuted, it took the internet by storm because the show was mostly white models wearing dreadlocks. Jacobs claims he was inspired by his hair muse Lana Wachowski, a transgender woman film director who wears hot pink dreadlocks. Jacobs and team used artist, Jena Counts who sells wool-dyed dreadlocks on Etsy. Jacobs fell under heavy criticism for not paying clear homage to his inspirations for using dreadlocks as a hairstyle choice. He did not mention any context of dreadlocks other than thinking they were fun and fit his theme of the season.

Historically, dreadlocks have been attached to a Rastafarian identity, more broadly people of African ancestry expressing their connection with their ancestors and a statement to defy the Eurocentric standards of beauty that have been forced on people of color. The Rastafarian movement native to Jamaica, is not only a social movement, it is also a lifestyle and religious movement. Born in 1930’s Jamaica, from Black political leader, Marcus Garvey, Rastafarianism emphasized the unifying of Black people to with the motherland in resistance to oppression and being robbed of African heritage. One way Rasta express their identity, is through their hair, dreadlocks. This hairstyle has been adopted by not only African Americans, but also people with African ancestry from the Caribbean and Great Britain. Dreads was a hairstyle famously embraced by Rastafarians in the 1950’s and 60’s who wanted to give a symbolic homage to ancestors and anti-colonial efforts. This brought a collective efforts of reclamation of African prinde and a confronting of social culture in America and post colonialism from Europe in the Caribbean.

Dreads have seem multiple political phases (reference cult resistance book): earliests Rastafarian phase (1950’s-70’s), African nationals (1970’s – 80’s), counter hegemonic phases (1980’s – 1990’s and a transitional phase (1990’s – present) that has since separate the statement of wearing dreads as strictly as political statement. Cultural expression is also means equality. If white dominance was being forced on people of color, then wearing natural hair styles needed to be at the forefront to progress for racial inequality. Dreadlocks are also a protective style for hair and a fashion trend that people foreign to its original cultural identity have since adopted since the mid 1990’s when dreads transitioned to be more a style fashionable style rather than a political statement.

A main issue of Jacobs use of dreads is not that he put mostly non-black models in the hairstyle its his response of the accusations of cultural appropriation. In his response to an overwhelming backlash online about whether or not Jacobs had any faults, he ultimately resorted to pointing back a women of color and resorting to love is the answer. And all who cry cultural appropriation or whatever nonsense about any race of skin color wearing their hair in a particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color or race- I see people… (Marc Jacobs). He turned the tables on women of color and yet still has not mentioned his inspiration of dreadlocks. Even though his hair muse, Lana Wachowski wears dreads as a everyday look known to her aesthetic, Jacobs in an internationally recognized designer who should have known enough context as to whom dreads are culturally identified with outside of Wachowski.

Although this incident was highly criticized, it was also heavily debated as many people went back and forth online the majority of those speaking out about this, being overly sensitive and there is not much of an issue here, eluding to a larger issue of cultural appropriation in society as people making jokes about not being able to wear certain Halloween costumes or festival wear. White people do not need to wear things in order to normalize things.

In the past years, luxury fashion has had a consistent demographic based for white middle aged clients, however trends show that those demographics are rapidly shifting to millenials and consumers heavily based in the Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern markets (

Works Cited

The Business of Fashion, and McKinsey & Company. The State of Fashion 2018. 2017. Accessed 30 Oct. 2018.

Garrin, Ashley R., and Sara B. Marcketti. “”The Impact of Hair on African American Women’s Collective Identity Formation.”” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, vol. 36, no. 2, 2017, pp. 104-118.

Hunt, Kenya. “”New York Fashion Week SS17: Trippy Raver-Inspired Fashion And Dreadlock-gate at Marc Jacobs.”” ELLE, 16 Sept. 2016,

Kellner, Douglas. Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics between the Modern and the Post-Modern. 2003.

Kuumba, M., and Femi Ajanaku. “”Dreadlocks: The Hair Aesthetics of Cultural Resistance and Collective Identity Formation.”” Mobilization Journal, 1998, Accessed 30 Oct. 2018.

Lee, Helene, and Stephen Davis. First Rasta, the: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism. Chicago Review P, 2003.

Mendes, Valerie, and Amy. Haye. Fashion Since 1900. Thames Hudson, 2010.

Wagner, Lindsay P. “”What It’s Really Like to Be Black and Work in Fashion.”” The Cut, 23 Aug. 2018,

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Cultural Identities or Lack Thereof in High-end Fashion Print and Digital Campaigns. (2019, Apr 10). Retrieved January 27, 2023 , from

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