Let’s revisit the Gucci Ready-to-Wear collection from Fall 2018. Back in February of last year, Gucci presented their Fall 2018 collection from Alessandro Michele. The Fall 2018 collection was famous for some of its models who carried disembodied copies of their heads on the runway and were the inspiration for Jared Leto’s look at the Met gala this year. What most people forgot however was how the collection featured a number of borrowed accessories from a variety of cultures across the globe including a Chinese pagoda hat, a hijab, and a turban.
Vogue’s article on the collection described the outfits as follows:
“Bolted together from the clothing of many cultures, they were Alessandro Michele’s metaphor for how people today construct their identities—a population undergoing self-regeneration through the powers of tech, Hollywood, Instagram, and Gucci.”
If you have a minute, take a look at the gallery that accompanies the article, and you’ll notice that while the clothing might have borrowed from many cultures, the models weren’t all that diverse. According to Alessandro, we are apparently at a point in time where we are “post-human” (a troubling statement that I don’t know if I agree with) so the show examined the way people constructed their identities through its assemblage of human culture in fashion. I get that message. However, as people were quick to note, that beautiful mosaic of human fashion was draped on a very homogenous, privileged group of individuals. Although there are a few models of colour, they made up about 15% of the total number by my calculations. As a result, the show received a fair amount of backlash for its cultural appropriation.
Fast forward to today and people were outraged, yet again, at the fact that turbans, diminutively called “Indy Full Turbans” from the 2018 show were on sale at Nordstrom for a whopping $800! It’s the same criticism, but a year and three months later. Cultural appropriation can sometimes be hard to identify, particularly in cases where ignorance is paired with admiration. Alessandro was interested in dissecting human identities and culture and building them back up again – it’s a provocative idea and its intent, though not well-executed, was to appreciate culture instead of tearing it down. The difference lies in the additional condition of cultural appropriation that considers the cultural context and power dynamics surrounding the appropriated work. Appropriation usually happens in cases where someone from a privileged group co-opts a piece of culture from an oppressed group and strips it of all its cultural significance and context. Although the art or fashion or food originates from that group, they rarely see profit, benefit, or even recognition for that work. This is the case with Gucci’s decision to sell turbans at such a ridiculous price.
I live in Surrey, BC, a city affectionately called Little Punjab. Some street signs are even written in both English and Punjabi. While it means that the Indian food here is amazing (seriously, like mind blowing), it also means that seeing someone walking on the street in a turban is quite a regular occurrence due to the large Sikh population.
For those who are unfamiliar, turbans are found in many different cultures, but are most recognized with Sikhism. Like in many other areas, religion and culture are closely married and wearing a turban can be a signifier of cultural identity, a vow of religious piety, and symbolizes many things including a deference to God’s will, a promise to adhere to the values of Sikhism, and a historical connection to the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. There’s a really great article in the guardian that delves into the turban and its role in Sikh culture.
The true bullsh-t of Gucci’s Indy Turban is that right now, wearing a turban can be dangerous. It’s a beacon to racists and xenophobes who confuse it with other cultures or see it as a distinct form of “otherness” to quash. Take for instance this attack in California back in August or even this one in January earlier this year as evidence of the violence that people who wear turbans have to face. In Canada, Quebec’s issue with turbans and hijabs has prompted the secularism law preventing public workers from wearing religious symbols, a move that arguably targets mainly Muslims and Sikhs. Wearing a turban can mean you’re labelled a terrorist, potential threat, foreigner, or any other pejorative. I’ve had friends yelled and cursed at because they were wearing turbans.
Gucci deciding to sell these as luxury fashion, and to model them on white models, means that they get to co-opt the fashion, while shedding any of the oppression associated with it, ignoring its religious and cultural meaning, all while gaining an insane financial benefit. $800 for stealing! Turban wearing Sikhs are terrorists while turban wearing white models are couture. The frustrating part is that we’ve been through this with Gucci already. This criticism has been there since the show first came out, and the company still decided to sell the product.
Back in February, Gucci was also under fire for its $890 blackface sweater. The company pulled the product (as Nordstrom has now done with the turban) and apologized, but the Indy Turban shows that the message isn’t getting through and it’s why representation in all departments, at all levels of business, is critical. Gucci, get your sh-t together, hire some diverse talent, and DO BETTER.