The theme of Valentino’s SS16 collection was “wild, tribal Africa.” Breaking down the meaning of this theme, it simply does not make much sense. Africa is a continent with many diverse countries and cultures. Calling the theme “wild, tribal Africa” is another problem. This equates tribal culture with being “wild,” as in untamed. The models in the show were almost entirely white (not unlike most of the other shows at the various the Fashion Weeks), and were wearing cornrows.
This is a problematic scene for a fashion show. Yet, the mainstream fashion community barely reacted to this show, barely challenged the very problematic theme. There seemed to be only praise for the show. The Vogue UK review dreamily states that the show is “an epic body of work that women, from Rome to Africa and beyond will all be wanting a piece of.” The Vogue review does not seem to see the issues with the collection or the theme. As a longtime fan of Tim Blanks, I disappointed to read his reaction to the collection. Ever faithful to the beauty of the artisans, Blanks fails to address the cultural issues. Blanks states that there is no issue of “post-colonial cultural appropriation, or something like that.” Why? He cites Pierpaolo Piccioli’s “need to create a new balance between tribal cultures and our own.” If using fashion to join to cultures is the goal, I believe it was missed at this Valentino show. Calling the show “primitive, yet regal” might be the start of why I think that is.
I believe that the issues created by the theme and the treatment of diverse African cultures as one source of inspiration eclipses the mastery of the pieces. I don’t believe fashion can exist in a bubble where cultural, social, and political issues cannot touch it. These dresses are beautifully made, no one can deny the talent and hard work of the artisans of Valentino ateliers. This show simply crossed the line from appreciation to appropriation with little consequence from fashion critics.
Luckily, mainstream fashion magazines are no longer our only source of fashion review. Though traditionally less credible compared to fashion journalists of Vogue, I appreciate those who did choose to criticize this show. Publications like The Debrief and E News! were among the larger publications that chose to challenge the fashion house rather than only focus on the beauty of the dresses. Furthermore, people took to social media to post reactions to the show.
Like I said, fashion no longer exists in an elite bubble.
Click here for or more Twitter reactions to the show.