Whether on purpose or inadvertently, fashion is always crossing the fine line between homage and cultural appropriation. It is not uncommon for designers to mine the historical for inspiration but what happens when something inherently linked to traditions becomes a trend? In recent months the high fashion love affair with all things Arab has reached critical mass, thanks in no small part to Riccardo Tisci’s continuous cross-cultural references at Givenchy. Looking at the pages of fashion bibles from Vogue Italia to V and on the runways during the recent couture and menswear showings the trend was even more evident.
From the use of hijab-esque head coverings to Berber and Bedouin symbolism, there appear to be multiple reference points. In fact, one gets the feeling that the influences might not be as direct as Islamic art and culture but could instead be more Westernized ideas. Who doesn’t see a touch of the trite Lawrence of Arabia motifs in fashion’s interpretation of this look? It seems almost a shame to say something so beautiful is stereotypical but there is the sense that only the surface is being scratched. Seeing Sasha Pivovarova or Boyd Holbrook in styling that borders on harem-drag is rather dull but the gold facial jewelry and and draped scarves at Givenchy were undeniably beautiful. Fashion’s exotic flavor of the month changes with the seasons but there remains an unending fascination with the perceived otherness of certain garments and the traditions they represent. As this particular look develops, it will be interesting to see whether or not those who interpret it will move beyond its cliches.