Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation: Dior Cruise 2020 Resort Show in Marrakesh
Opinion Piece by: Nini Kunu
First things first, the premise of these cruise shows is to gift the most valued customers, and most influential figures in fashion, an unforgettable experience, so that fact alone is problematic, if considered in the context of this collection and the fact that creative director,
Maria Grazia Chiuri, chose Morocco, and pretty much “Africa” as the inspiration and destination. Without sugarcoating, her aim was to use Africa as a backdrop and a source of entertainment for her guests, she literally flew everyone in on a massive, branded plane. However, in the narrative and discourse around the show, Chiuri was intentional in her mention of Dior’s “long” history with Morocco. She referred to the dress Christian Dior himself designed in 1951 called the “Maroque” and his “fascination with Morocco.” All this to say that Maria Grazia Chiuri was quite intentional with this collection and the way it was communicated to the public as a sort of ode to Moroccan culture without actually mentioning the benefit to, or an extending an invitation to collaborate with any real African key stakeholders in the process.
In a video shared on the Dior YouTube channel, Maria Grazia Chiuri refers to being inspired by beads, textures and fabric and not people or a culture, which is probably an attempt to cover all her bases but it ends up trivializes the value of the culture being leeched on. Chiuri’s boldness and sureness in telling her version of our stories, stories that don’t belong to her, and true embodiment of her “saviour” complex is extremely problematic but even more so because it has given people permission to do the same.
Coming to the defence of fashion stallion, Dior’s Resort 2020 Collection, that featured numerous African prints and was hosted in Marrakesh, fashion influencer, Susie Lau referenced Kenneth Ize, to prove her knowledge of African fashion, and her resultant personal recognition of the talent on the continent. Being a LVMH prize nominee is an incredible achievement for any designer, much less one like Kenneth Ize, but unfortunately, it is now being turned around in a narrative backed by blatant tokenism, and used to justify cultural appropriation. Because in fashion, nothing is given to people that look like me without the guarantee of gaining something bigger in return.
More than anything, it is offensive. It is especially insulting to fashion trailblazers and pacesetters like Lisa Folawiyo, Deola Sagoe and Tiffany Amber, who have been doing the damn thing for years. The back and forth went down on social media and it is a bit too complicated to discuss at length, however Lau’s stance was clear, “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” because she is familiar with the Kenneth Ize brand, she is familiar with every African designer and the African continent as a whole, which is not uncommon.
The overall narrative and discourse around the show mirrored the same sentiment, Africa as a continent should feel incredibly blessed because Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri pays homage to the house’s former creative director, Yves Saint Laurent and his “fascination with Morocco.” In speaking on the collection, Chiuri, in an effort to ward off the ever evolving conversation on cultural appropriation, refers specifically to textures, colours, fabric and shapes never fully acknowledging the Moroccan culture or people whom she re-appropriates.
I feel about this the exact same way I feel when people talking about “not seeing colour.” There is very much a variety of colours and a variety of cultures that are very different from each other, and maybe the solution
is not trying to make everyone one thing, but rather striving to recognize our differences and ways that they complement each other. There are too many ongoing efforts to bridge the gap and while that is lovely and may be the only doable step at this point, the focus should be on how to empower African designers to tell their own stories on a global stage. We are too quick to reward and applaud surface level inclusion, and too easily appeased by a good first step in the right direction because we fail to recognize that a good first step is just that. It is only truly valuable when it is followed by more steps towards the desired destination. After all, a solid foundation is not nearly as desirable as a beautiful house.
I feel about this the exact same way I feel when people talking about “not seeing colour.” There is very much a variety of colours and a variety of cultures that are very different from each other, and maybe the solution is not trying to make everyone one thing, but rather striving to recognize our differences and ways that they complement each other.