So often in fashion we see editorials and runway shows that borrow heavily from other cultures and past civilizations. A recent editorial in Vogue Australia called, “Tomorrow’s Tribe” was beautifully composed, styled and photographed. Reportedly inspired by the pages of National Geographic, this editorial was Vogue’s attempt to contextualize “tribal” fashion; to lend greater street cred to its use of “tribal style.” Yet as an ex-academic – somewhat fluent in the frequently silenced, if not forgotten, stories and voices of minorities and peoples of neocolonial territories, I have to wonder if fashion’s sartorial interpretations do damage and disservice to the cultural memories and rituals and sacred traditions from which it borrows inspiration. Or is there a way to encourage cross-cultural dialogue and promote awareness about the tribes whose designs make up our version of “tribal style”?
My answer? Perhaps.
If we regard fashion as a medium of performance, full of aesthetic ciphers and clues that influence as much as they reflect social opinion and historical “progress”, can we understand differently their sometimes blatant cultural and religious mischaracterizations? How can we turn these mischaracterizations into opportunities for education and consciousness-raising? If fashion is as anticipatory a cultural medium as I believe it to be – can we examine these misguided portrayals not just as neocolonial power plays, but also as symptomatic of an increasingly interwoven matrix of human experience?
As the aesthetics of the Other become more enmeshed with the aesthetics of the Self, do we simultaneously bring new voice to the peoples and cultures from which we borrow inspiration? Furthermore, how do we celebrate the beauty and design of another People without also commoditizing and/or exploiting their identities and stories and livelihoods?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do we perpetuate social and cultural imperialisms with fashion narratives like the ones below or do these aesthetic performances create opportunities for dialogue and education?