Fashion, Race and "Cultural Appropriation"

  • Central Saint Martins 1 Granary Square London, England, N1C 4AA United Kingdom

Central Saint Martins (London, UK)

Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Chinese inspired’ designs of the late 1970s, Ricardo Tisci’s AW 2015 ‘Chola girl’ runway show; bindis worn at festivals, baby-curls and ‘braid bars’ - fashion has always borrowed from non-western or socially marginalised cultures. These creative strategies have increasingly been criticised, particularly online, for their insensitivity to, and exploitation of, the colonised, the economically underdeveloped, and the geopolitically subaltern. The term ‘cultural appropriation’ is now a popular idiom that describes this act of so-called creative borrowing from the non-west. It is closely associated with the use of exoticism, the ‘Oriental’ Other and varieties of racial stereotyping and micro-aggression in fashion design and image making.

Fashion, Race and ‘Cultural Appropriation’: A Conference at Central Saint Martins will address the representation of race and ethnic identity in fashion design and associated media through the framework of cultural appropriation. This one-day event seeks to locate race, ethnicity, borrowing and appropriation within intellectual debates arising from postcolonial theories, critical race theory, whiteness studies and cultural and historical studies. Design takes inspiration from all things, but how can we understand borrowing and appreciation, the embodied conventions of genre in a globalised economy and digital cultural environment? Is one consumer’s beauty another’s racism and white supremacy? Walter Benjamin talks about the ‘rag-picker’ as a mode of modern creative practice. In our contemporary geopolitical environment, does rag-picking hide more complex dynamics of inequality inherent to fashion consumption? How can we explore these ideas without dictating to creatives and consumers, admonishing them for their choices? Our current media environment holds creativity up to intense scrutiny. Is it the job of design to challenge clichés, stereotypes and white supremacy? Are image making and fashion ever truly separate from geopolitics?

Keynote Speakers: Dr Sarah Cheang (Royal College of Art, London) and Dr Serkan Delice (London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London)

More information and registration can be found at the conference website.