On Thursday, designer Marc Jacobs showed off his newest designs, closing out New York fashion week. And while the clothes were lauded, per the usual, it was the hair that didn’t sit so well with people.
The models rocked faux locs made out of multicolored yarn as they stomped down the runway, and soon after, the Internet had a lot to say about the choice of hairstyle for the event. The cultural appropriation conversation resurfaced, with people noting that when Black men and women wear locs, it’s deemed unkempt or unprofessional, but when White women do so in fashion shows and as public figures, it’s “in style” and cute. The debate raged on.
Making matters worse, the stylist who helped to bring those yarn locs to the runway, Guido Palau, emphatically told New York Magazine‘s The Cut when asked if Rastafarian culture influenced the look, “No, no at all.” Palau stated that inspiration came from Lana Wachowski, one half of the duo behind The Matrix, the ’80s, Boy George, raver culture, and Harajuku girls of Japan.
But nothing could make a stinky situation smell worse than the response from Jacobs. He took to Instagram to respond to the criticism with this:
“All who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin color wearing their hair in any 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.”
To be completely honest with you, I wasn’t bothered by the locs on the runway, and I wear locs. I’m well aware of the fact that people all over the world wear them and have been doing so for centuries. But Jacobs’s response to the critiques of his show definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.
For one, to say that those who speak out about the unfair ways in which mainstream culture takes from cultures they don’t care about for personal gain are crying about it (“it” being the “nonsense,” as he calls it), insinuates that there is zero validity in such arguments. It also paints these same people as overdramatic, constantly making much ado about nothing.
Then there is the issue of him trying to compare putting fake locs in the hair of White women to Black women straightening their hair. Ah yes, the straight hair, blond dye and weave defense. It would work perfectly if not for the fact that many of us were told that we should straighten our hair in the hopes of making a good impression to get ahead. Relaxers were pushed our way since childhood to form a look that was deemed more professional, more ornate and pretty, while being encouraged to turn against our natural hair, which was deemed unkempt for so long and still is. Wanted to look cute for Easter as a kid? You took a hot comb or no-lye to straighten your hair so you wouldn’t look as ordinary as you did every other day with your natural hair. It’s taken too long for us to stop looking at our coils as the enemy.
And as far as Jacobs not seeing color or race — boy, bye.
As someone who used to relish reading fashion magazines growing up, I’ve always been a fan of Marc Jacobs’s work. The way he thinks? That’s another story. To me, it’s very harmful for a person with such influence to speak in such a way, and so assuredly. It’s a testament to the way these people we admire from afar really think (and think about us), and who they surround themselves with (not a one single person who looks like us).
With the young girls in Pretoria, South Africa having to fight to be able to wear their natural hair in school, a Kentucky School unsuccessfully trying to impose a ban on locs, and the military having a ban on locs and twists for so long, it’s unsettling when we see these styles worn by White women on the main stage not in solidarity, but for profit, and it’s looked at as the hot new sh-t. It’s especially upsetting when someone asks them the influences behind such a look The response to being asked about the inspiration of Black culture is an emphatic “No, no at all,” as though the way we do locs is anything but chic and tidy when compared to White and Japanese people.
When you’re constantly told that you should straighten your hair or not wear natural styles like locs if you want to succeed and not be a “distraction,” it’s hurtful when people plop such styles on their head to stand out and be different, knowing they can take it off, when we want to wear it to comfortably be ourselves.
Jacobs doesn’t have to get it. Neither do the millions of other people who don’t understand just how important attribution is when this cultural appropriation conversation comes up. But when these things happen, they can’t tell us how to feel and not to speak out about the hypocrisy of it all. Especially when they don’t use the same passion and energy to encourage those who condemn our hair to stop using whatever methods available to hold us back.