American fashion design Marc Jacobs is making no apologies for saying that creative people shouldn't be subject to “border control” and free expression in fashion shouldn't be policed by cultural sensitivities.
Speaking to students in Oxford, Jacobs pushed back on critics of his New York Fashion Week 2016 runway show. At the time, he styled his models with multi-colored dreadlocks regardless of their ethnicity and that triggered harsh criticism from the black community.
One year later Jacobs doesn’t hold back:
'I think it's very dangerous to say: "You can't use this, you can't look at that, you can't borrow from that, you can't be inspired by that".
'You know, "stay in your own lane". I don't really understand that mentality and I think it's a very dangerous way of thinking.'
Jacobs said: 'I didn't feel like I was doing anything wrong. I was expressing myself – these were my references and my reasons for being inspired to do it.
'I wasn't saying that this was the origin of dreadlocks, and yet it caused this whole thing.'
'What I did learn from that experience is to have some responsibility to be sensitive, especially when people say "this feels like appropriation", then at least listen to what they have to say.
'Because I reacted out of anger, I felt attacked for doing something that I thought was my right to do. I do feel that creative people shouldn't have any kind of border control on what it's okay to look at, what it's okay to be inspired by, so I stand by that.'
Jacobs is right about freedom of expression.
The irony is that the left is usually on the side of artists painting obscenity, musicians cursing, and designers creating explicit clothing – not pushing for them to be censored.
We’ve seen a wave of cultural sensitivity about clothing and style. Kylie Jenner and the Kardashian clan are frequent violators of what is considered cultural appropriation.
When Jacobs put white models in dreadlocks, African American women were rattled. They claimed he appropriated the dreadlock culture with no attribution or acknowledgement of the struggles of black women in the workforce. (They conveniently ignore that Black Americans borrowed dreadlocks from the Caribbean, but never mind that.)
At the time, Jacobs lashed out at criticism on his official page calling out “all who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race of skin color wearing their hair in a particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair.”
He later softened his position and apologized captioning a photo with:
“I have read your comments and I thank you for expressing your feelings. I apologize for the lack of sensitivity unintentionally expressed by my brevity. I wholeheartedly believe in freedom of speech and freedom to express oneself though art, clothes, words, hair, music … EVERYTHING. Of course I do “see” color but I DO NOT discriminate. THAT IS A FACT! Please continue to express your feelings freely but do it kindly. Nothing is gained from spreading hate by name calling and bullying
Jacobs shouldn’t have backed down. It’s important that he and other designers, musicians, and artists use their platforms to defend freedom of expression for all.
They should not defend it out of convenience either. This time he was on the receiving end of the ire, but I hope he’ll come to the rescue of others when the cultural appropriation police come knocking on their door.