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Fashion and Fake News

It started with politics. It was a term coined by Donald Trump when he aggressively responded to questioning by CNN Journalist, Jim Acosta, at his premier press conference as President-elect. “You are fake news!” Similarly, this catchphrase was used to describe, retrospectively, the claim by the UK Independence Party that a vote to leave the EU would result in £350 million worth of net savings a week. As alleged, this instead could have been directed towards funding domestic institutions, such as the NHS.

Bending the truth, embellishing the truth, a white lie, and lying by omission are all tactics that have long been endorsed in political warfare. They’re employed to influence the vote of the public in favour of a particular party, while damaging others. When I first learnt about such broadcasts on TV, radio and print media, in history lessons at school, we called it propaganda. But since then, the concept is no longer confined to the realms of electioneering. Fake News has become some sort of phenomenon, applicable to other areas including fashion.

The purpose of fashion journalism is to report on the latest trends, critique new fashion lines, interview prominent figures within the industry and look critically at the issues that affect and are affected by it. But unlike the aforementioned ‘traditional’ media, the internet is arguably the most accessible news outlet in the world. As a reader of news posted online, the first benefit to me is that it’s free. And as an amateur writer, I can also pen and publish my own, or at the very least share what I’ve found – whether fact-checked or not – with my ‘friends’ and followers on social networks. I don’t need to be a communications expert, to have undergone formal training, or have years of experience in a reputable, credible media organisation/s under my belt. These days anyone can write a product review and influence the decisions of those that see it.

Fashion companies no longer have to solely rely on befriending journalists to promote the clothes, shoes, accessories, make up etc. that they want to sell. Often untrained, bloggers and social media influencers are beginning to rule the roost, sometimes through Fake News, although not for political but financial gain. Lydia E Millen, The Blonde Salad, Rosie Londoner etc. are a handful that have yielded huge incomes for testimonial-style written posts, images and vlogs with a piece of (usually expensive) merchandise at the forefront. In fact, every other post on my Instagram follows a ‘Buy this, drink this, eat this, look like me’ formula. In between a few snaps of my friends on nights out and holidays, it’s constant streams of teeth-whitening solutions and Boo Tea.

It can be difficult to decipher which posts are genuine and authentic and which are fraught with trickery in exchange for a pay packet. Research, however, by Annalect, shows that not all of us are looking at social media content with a discerning eye. In a recent survey, 40% of participants were reported to have purchased a product having seen it modelled by an influencer on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or Vine.

Both the Advertising Standards Authority and the Consumer and Markets Authority have published guidelines against brands and bloggers deliberately misleading their audience. Paid editorial content is permissible. However, to stay in line with consumer protection law, it is transparency i.e. clearly indicating adverts as what they are, that’s paramount. Hashtags such as #ad and #sponsoredpost on social media can help to achieve this. But while these remain largely unseen, trust in fashion and Fake News is entirely in the reader or viewer’s hands.

So, what’s the deal with fashion and cultural appropriation?

Over the last few months, the term ‘cultural appropriation’ appears more and more on my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds, often within posts conveying upset and rage. The people behind them are aggravated. But some of their followers and ‘friends’ just don’t get why, and what they’re going on about exactly.

“I hear it has something to do with race”.

“What’s wrong with wearing a bindi, or liking a pic of a girl with her hair in braids?”

On the surface these types of comments and questions are not necessarily ill-willed. However, they do illustrate that the issue of cultural appropriation needs clarifying. Here I attempt to explain.

The fashion industry could not survive without diversity. For centuries, it’s been common practice for designers to borrow elements of style, whether it be colour, patterns and motifs, embellishments, cut, accessories etc. from a variety of different countries and cultures across the world. This mix and match of geographical influences leads to innovative design in clothes and footwear. And the acceptance, appreciation and adoption of fashion from other areas, particularly places that are lesser developed, promotes a sense of togetherness and inclusivity that’s truly beautiful.

When I first saw an image of Valentino’s Wild Africa campaign (above), I was stunned. The beading, bone necklaces and prints are typical of the Maasai people of Kenya but in this case had been re-interpreted and now popularised in the West – I loved it. Although Kenya is not my homeland, it’s very close to my patrilineage in the bordering nation of Uganda and rarely had I seen something of either location being showcased in the UK or Europe because it was pretty. In the past, black people have been exhibited in human zoos in London, Paris and Berlin, to be mocked.

I’m always shocked, disgusted and saddened when I learn about the suffrage of my ancestors, tortured under colonial empires. However, despite what would seem like progress in the 2016 Valentino show, widespread fury still ensued. In some part, this is due to the collection’s offensive descriptors, words such as ‘primitive’, for example. However, mostly, people from under-represented groups were riled up because of the lack of diversity in the cast. Considering it was an African-inspired show, the models chosen to parade the catwalk were predominantly white, and therein lies the first component of what constitutes cultural appropriation.

When someone of a minority background wears traditional dress or does their hair in a way that’s distinctive of their culture, this can lead to them being humiliated, jeered at in the streets, bullied in the playground, workplace, or circa the 1800s, on display in human zoos. However, if that same piece of clothing or hairstyle is adorned by someone of a dominant race, it’s perceived to be the height of fashion. The ‘look’ becomes desirable. On fair skin, it’s seen to be cool.

This is why cultural misappropriation is offensive. It’s damaging to the self-esteem of marginalised, ethnic people, and as I explore later, wealth distribution too.

First, in primary school, as a black girl wearing my hair in braids, I would often be teased. People would come up to me to touch it and make me and my personal space feel violated. As a white girl with cornrow today, you’d be dubbed fashion-forward, unique and cool. Black style is accepted on white people in mainstream culture. They’ll plait your hair in Topshop. Even the Kardashians are doing it.

Tammy, 1997

Tammy aged 4

 

Secondly, the Wild Africa collection presumably will have yielded millions in revenue for the Italian fashion house, but what about those people from where the designs and inspiration were sourced? What portion of Valentino’s income should have been attributed to the originators in the Kenyan Maasai community? Where are their economic gains? A further issue with cultural misappropriation means credit is seldom given where credit is due.

Such was the case again the following year in the Marc Jacobs S/S 17 fashion show. Jacobs’ sparked controversy for using mainly white models with dreadlocks to sell his clothes. His defence was that he did not “see colour or race”. But that is precisely the point. People of colour want to be visible on the catwalk, in campaigns, at the bank and in the archives in years to come remembered as talented creators.

So while I absolutely love and cannot get enough of this new Westernised pride and appreciation for African apparel, Afro-Caribbean hairstyles, and other cultural influences from faraway places around the globe, let us model them too, make money from our own culture, and be acknowledged as your inspiration (that has, for a long time, taken abuse) behind it all.

Marc Jacobs - Runway - September 2016 - New York Fashion Week

Marc Jacobs Spring/Summer 17 runway show

Style.com is out. Condé Nast partners with FarFetch

Less than a year after Condé Nast relaunched Style.com as a fashion e-commerce site, the company is closing the business and forging a new strategic partnership with FarfetchRead more here: https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/news-analysis/the-end-of-style-com-conde-nast-inks-new-partnership-with-farfetch

In other news…

Topshop faces fierce competition from e-retailers, Boohoo, Misguided, and PrettyLittleThing. Read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jun/07/topshop-falling-out-of-fashion-with-instagram-generation

Why do women find it so hard to dress for work? Read more here: https://qz.com/995484/why-its-so-hard-for-women-to-figure-out-what-to-wear-to-work-in-2017/

Google Arts & Culture enters fashion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Read more herehttp://www.vogue.com/article/google-we-wear-culture-metropolitan-museum-of-art-andrew-bolton-anna-wintour

Heidi Klum teams up with Lidl (yes, Lidl!) to produce new clothing line. Read more here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/people/heidi-klum-teams-lidl-have-reached-peak-fashion-collaboration/

Lanvin sales continue to plummet since firing Alber Elbaz. Read more: https://fashionista.com/2017/06/lanvin-sales-slump-fired-alber-ebaz

Made in Transylvania 

Earlier this week it was unveiled that Louis Vuitton “Made in Italy” branded shoes are in fact, the products of a little town in the region of Transylvania in Romania – Famed for vampire mythology, it’s not quite the setting for luxury craftsmanship we had in our minds.

For a wealthy, fashion enthusiast, the picture of a highly skilled, Venetian shoe-maker expending hours of work on fine detailing in an Italian atelier would merit a premium price tag for a pair of designer shoes. It’s not rare to see LV footwear selling anywhere between £500 and £1,200, depending on the style and type. Yet instead, literally more than one thousand miles away from where their labels would suggest, Louis Vuitton heels, boots, sandals and sneakers are being mass produced in a low wage, third world country before only the soles are fitted in Italy.

Perhaps selfishly, the news feels disappointing. As an aspiring owner, my initial thoughts sprung to that of deception. Italians are known for leather, and China and the Middle East, beautifully embroidered silks. Many clothing companies recognise that consumers are influenced by these geographical links to luxury goods and will select what they purchase based on their perception of where’s best for what. In other words, the location where the materials are sourced and the garments and shoes manufactured matter just as much as the actual style.

When I moved to Paris to pursue my studies of the French language for a year, one of my greatest pleasures was in being stopped by Parisian women on the street (who are unquestionably the epitome of effortless style and grace) and being asked where my coat was from. A sandy, stone-coloured Chelsea trench, I beamed when I answered “Burberry”. I was proud to adorn a staple that is quintessentially British and to not only have their approval but to be dressed everyday in what was desirable to haute couture-blooded French fashionistas.

So while I still do like a Louis Vuitton shoe and applaud that the plant in Transylvania goes some way to bolster the local economy – it creates a presumed hundreds of jobs and provides small communities with a livelihood – the same sense of aspiration and/or national pride I assign to these “Made in…” items, with the knowledge that they’re not really, is certainly lost.