Fashion, Race and "Cultural Appropriation"

A Conference at Central Saint Martins

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?

We invite 20 minute academic papers from scholars who work on race and fashion media, particularly with reference to Postcolonial Studies, Critical Race Theory, Literary, Media, Fashion and Cultural Studies, Art and Design History, Cultural Sociology, Anthropology, Geography. We also welcome any practitioners/designers/image-makers who want to reflect critically on their practice. Papers can be on the following themes:

  • Critical/cultural theories and cultural appropriation;
  • representation of raced or marginal bodies in fashion media;
  • beauty and body ideals, race concepts, race as 'lived experience' and fashion media;
  • cultural appropriation and its histories;
  • race and fashion structures: casting, editing and commissioning appropriation;
  • fashion and the colonial encounter;
  • appropriation, identity and privilege/social class;
  • jewellery/gems/precious metals, geopolitics/economics and identity;
  • race, aesthetics and fashion styling, constructions of whiteness, blackness, etc.;
  • forms of racism and white supremacy and the fashion media;
  • appropriation and the everyday (hair-style trends, fancy dress, cosplay, Halloween etc.);
  • ‘rag-picking’, postmodernity and design creativity in a globalised media economy
  • textiles and appropriation;
  • fashion and types of ‘passing’, use of black/yellow face, skin-lightening etc.;
  • race and sexualities and cultural appropriation;
  • configurations of gender construction and cultural appropriation;
  • racial fetishes and fashion imagery/design;
  • design/fashion history, race and cultural appropriation;
  • methodologies for studying cultural appropriation;
  • popular debates: appropriation and digital media;
  • how fashion design/images imagine the Oriental Other and the exotic.

Please send 250 word abstracts plus a 50 word biography to by 5 pm 31 March 2017.

General enquires to Dr Royce Mahawatte, Cultural Studies Programme, Central Saint Martins ( Proceedings will be developed into an essay collection.