The fashion house Valentino spent shooting an advertising campaign for spring-summer 2016 in the Kenyan Amboseli National Park surrounded by representatives of the local Maasai tribes, shot by American photojournalist Steve McCurry.
Creative director Maria Grazia and Pierpaolo Picciolo Currie developed in the campaign traybalicheskie motives that inspired them to create spring-summer 2016 models specific to Aboriginal African hairstyles and dresses in the art of patchwork and blurred as if bleached floral prints and and ornamental embroidery and decorations of beads and feathers posing against the backdrop of the Masai huts and savanna landscapes.
Not sure if it’s just the campaign shoot that is Masai inspired or if it’s the whole look book, but there is already one or two social media critique. This collection is likely to be very popular on the following basis. All mainstream collections from international brands really have run their limit and only go further when they include some foreign, especially African, influences. Not only because it’s admirable, but because those who critique them for cultural misappropriation usually contribute a lot to their authentic promotion.
Yes, I get it, a lot of people including myself feel a way about cultural misappropriation. Yes, Africa has been colonized and disrupted and it’s still getting on its feet, and no one likes to see big fashion houses from the countries that contributed to this make money off from African culture.
But here is why seeing Valentino embracing or incorporating the Masai elements into their designs bothers me not. in late 2015 we covered Nairobi Fashion Week and Swahili Fashion Week. NFW featured most designers from Kenya, and SFW featured a lot from Tanzania.
In this day and age with the growing popularity of African fashion, where the most selling earrings on our online Ghanaian boutique at www.fashionghana.com/shop are the Kenyan masai made beaded earrings, I was ecstatic and looking forward to seeing how Kenyan and Tanzanian designers (where the Masai tribe is heavily based) will take this fashion phenomenon to the next level.
Unfortunately, I don’t recall one fashion designer embracing anything Masai related, I doubt there was any beaded work on the runway. As I am not based in East Africa I can’t query why. Could it be fashion that has come and gone? Who knows, but Don’t take my word for it, see all the designers here; NFW & SFW. It was a shame, because it is an amazing international business opportunity that simply passed them by. Now Valentino does just about that and then there is an outcry.
African designers need to be held accountable. Their role should not be simply to make anything out of anywhere just for the beauty. But to expand and turn what was once our tribal, native, cultural or historial attire into modern outstanding beautiful fashion. Which inturn normalizes our culture as well as creates jobs locally.
I’m not pointing the right or wrong finger, but if Africa (and not referring to all) have culture and we do not wish to express it, push, support, promote or utlize it at its most then where does the disgruntle come from when its embraced by others. Last year, Ghana Fashion & Design Week restricted showcasing designers from using print. Rumour has it that the organizers claimed that prints are not African (made in). Fair point there are a lot of imported prints, but that is not a 100% true. Amongst some made Ghanaian prints, There is also tye and dye which is made here. And most of all, despite where it’s imported from it’s still our culture. Such acts then makes one question if Ghana embraces this fashion week, why do we outcry when Viktor and Rolf does just that and drops a collection of print clothes.
I hate to be one of those that gives a perspective against the grain just to sound different, but one can’t complain about others embracing your culture when you shy away from it. And I do want us to cry cultural misappropriation everytime it stands out, but not if the culture is not even being appreciated by those complaining about it or those who are related to it. I’ve not seen one Masai related look book from any Kenyan based designer or atleast within my 4 years of fashion blogging.
With that said, let’s look forward to African fashion designers taking great advantage to enhance and modernize their amazing cultures. And if you are disappointed when foreigners do it, let them know. But also start complaining to your local designers and show organizers and question why they are neglecting their own heritage. For now see the Masai inspired campaign image below by Valentino.
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