'Ethnic' Fashion and Rodarte

Semester started and for a while I swear I didn't think about this blog for like three weeks. It's not like there were heaps of assignments or stuff - I'm not doing law people! But I don't think I'm one of those adaptable go getter types and so when there is change in my routine I go into shock for a while. But I'm out! Here I am! I was meaning to post about the Dries van Noten show but I'm glad I put it off because something relevant popped up in fashion news, and that is the criticism by Megan Davis, a UN expert on indigenous issues and herself an indigenous Australian, of the use of Aborigine art in the latest Rodarte collection.

I would like to make this clear: I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON INDIGENOUS ISSUES, I AM NOT A GOOD DEBATER AND I LIKE TO AVOID CONFLICT SO I WILL NOT BE SPECULATING AS TO WHETHER/WHAT DEGREE THE RODARTE COLLECTION WAS INSENSITIVE. Instead I am taking the opportunity to look at the issue of "ethnic" inspiration in "western" fashion collections (I am putting these words in inverted commas because I am thinking about a lecturer of mine who would get super mad whenever anyone used a huge generalization like "Western" - well guess what, I'm not getting marked on this so I'll generalize all I want!).

It is interesting that of all the borrowing on non-western (there I go again) design codes recently - Proenza Schouler's martial arts collection and Pre-fall Chanel's trip to India to name just two - Rodarte's case was the one singled out. But I think perhaps one reason for this is it is so rare for Aborigine culture to be referenced in mainstream design. Those poor Japanese and Chinese get hacked ALL THE TIME. I mean consistently since the mid 1800s have artists and designers been plundering their culture. And back when Toulouse-Lautrec was riffing on woodblocks there were no blogs for Japanese academics to get indignant about the fact that everyone was praising these ca-razy new art forms, when really they were just a poor man's woodblock print. But as for Aborigine art to be reproduced on expensive dresses, well this is new - and as well as that, they are certainly more on the back-foot internationally and locally than say Japan.

One commenter on fashionista.com pointed out that to define some cultures as more vulnerable than others is somewhat condescending, which is true, yet it is impossible to ignore the fact that Aborigine culture has suffered and been beaten down significantly more than most other cultures that are appropriated for the sake of fashion. The closest parallels that come to my mind are the use of Native American art and design in fashion design - or I'm sorry, Navajo design (that was sarcasm btw, in case you are thinking I'm a total idiot). While there's been criticism (and lawsuits) over brands using the word 'navajo' to describe their products, interestingly there hasn't been Rodarte-level of outrage over collections like Proenza Schouler's Fall 2011 ode to the rug.

This issue is all pretty complicated, and I don't know what I think about it all. But the point is it's worth thinking about. So I was going to relate this back to Dries van Noten's collection, which looked to Chinese, Japanese and Korean textiles for inspiration. Actually no, I shouldn't say inspiration, the textiles were really just reproduced. But this post is already too big as it is, in my opinion, and I would like to devote a whole post to this Dries van Noten collection alone because I love it so much. That'll have to wait until tomorrow. Or the next day!

Runway images from vogue.com

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