In 2014, Glastonbury Festival took the decision to ban the sale of First Nation headdresses – following in the footsteps of several Canadian festivals that had already done so. It was a move that many felt was long overdue. Imitations of the headdresses had, along with Hunter wellies and glitter, become an omnipresent feature of festival style in the past decade. But, whilst a fun game of dress up for some, for those of indigenous heritage it was a deeply offensive act of cultural appropriation.
Examining such issues is Global Wardrobe – The Worldwide Fashion Connection, a new exhibition at Kunstmuseum Den Haag in the Netherlands. It explores the cross-cultural influences and complex power dynamics at play in the evolution of dress with reference to the museum’s West European fashion collection. The show is broken up into three phases – Imitation, Inspiration and Innovation – as it moves chronologically through the 18th and 19th centuries, and the 20th century to the present day. Amongst other key issues, visitors are confronted with the colonial roots of appropriation today.
In the 18th century, wealthy men wore colourful housecoats based on Japanese kimono design but crafted using textiles from India, whilst both sexes wore turbans, shawls and other forms of so-called “oriental dress” to signify their “free-spirits” and Bohemian taste. “In neither case was there much regard for the original function or meaning of the fabric or the symbolism that these fashions encapsulated,” write the curators. The Roaring Twenties saw West European women donning embroidered Chinese jackets as evening wear; the hippie style in the 1960s and 1970s incorporated clothes from Afghanistan. In the 1990s and noughties, catwalk shows featured saris, fake dreadlocks, “tribal” motifs and religious iconography.
But in recent years the tide has turned, with a growing recognition of the creative and cultural legacies of marginalised cultures. A new generation of young fashion designers like Lisa Konno, Rich Mnisi and Karim Adducci – featured in the exhibition – are embracing their own heritage. But their work doesn’t mark an end to the conversation about appropriation, as the curators at Kunstmuseum Den Haag note. “Their heritage is no longer glossed over in order to satisfy the ‘western gaze’, but used to emphasise uniqueness,” they write. “Will this be the new form of cultural appreciation? It certainly raises new questions over issues like who is ‘allowed’ to design or quote something, and who is then ‘allowed’ to wear it.”
Global Wardrobe runs from 9 October 2021 to 16 January 2022. Find out more here.
Words: Rachel Segal Hamilton
1. Lisa Konno, BABA, a multi-disciplinary project, 2019. Courtesy Lisa Konno. Photo: Laila Cohen.
2. Karim Adduchi, She Knows Why the Caged Bird Sings collection, 2016. Courtesy Karim Adduchi.
3. Rich Mnisi, Xibelani skirt with 5 km wool, based on the Tsonga culture, made in South Africa, Hiya Kaya ’21 collection, 2021. Courtesy Rich Mnisi. Photo: Zander Opperman.