New York fashion week meets cultural appropriation backlash on social media

In this Sept. 15, 2016, file photo, the Marc Jacobs Spring 2017 collection is modeled during Fashion Week in New York. Jacobs was criticized for showcasing white models in dreadlocks during the show. A screengrab showed Jacobs later responding on Instagram that he doesn’t see color or race. In a separate post on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, Jacobs said he was sorry for “the lack of sensitivity” in responding to critics. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo) 

On Sept. 15, Marc Jacobs’ 2017 collection was shown off at the runway at New York Fashion Week. Jacobs is known for being the last to show at Fashion Week, and seems to always leave his spectators asking for more. Except this time, Jacobs was left with what nobody would ever ask for: a social media outburst.

Jacobs styled his models in luxurious, vibrant fabrics embellished from head to toe in sparkling accessories and six-inch platforms. The show-stopper, however, had nothing to do with the outfit choices. Thousands of people disapproved of Jacobs’ collection for the choice of hair-style, as each model walked down the runway with a top-knot of pastel Dreadlocks.

Upon receiving criticism for “cultural appropriation,” Jacobs managed to make the situation worse by leaving the following comment on Instagram via his official Instagram account: “…and to all who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin color wearing their hair in any particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair.” He went on to say, “I don’t see color or race- I see people…Love is the answer.”

This led to an even bigger outburst on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, with trending hashtags such as #culturalappropriation posted alongside Jacobs’ name. Jacobs later apologized for his comment, admitting that he had gotten defensive about his collection and never meant to offend anyone.

The entire Marc Jacobs fiasco has led to a debate about the exact definition of cultural appropriation, and whether or not this NYFW show actually exhibited anything of the sort. While it’s easy for the world to get behind their laptops and criticize all white people for their part in stealing cultural identities, the case with Jacobs’ Dreadlocks show was a little far-fetched.

The models were respectful with the dreadlocks, and although they may have religious significance for Rastafarians and others, the use of dreadlocks as fashion has been common practice for the past decade. Crystal Bowersox, runner-up on season nine of “American Idol,” was a white woman with dreadlocks on national television, and nobody ever criticized her as a symbol of cultural appropriation.

It is clear that the world has grown accustomed to heightened sensitivity as populations have become more ethnically diverse; however, Marc Jacobs did not foster cultural appropriation in his show by choosing to style his models with dreadlocks.

That being said, Jacobs’ defensive response to criticism—calling out colored women for “straightening their hair”—was ludicrous and of bad taste. It was clear that he was insinuating that colored women straighten their hair because straight hair is “white,” where dreadlocks are “black.” This comment blew up over social media, and rightly-so.

Women should be able to dress the way they desire without scrutiny, regardless of their ethnicities. Despite his comment, there were women of color in Jacobs’ show, and he did not choose to use dreadlocks for the purpose of making his collection exotic or diverse. He simply felt that the hairstyle complimented the clothes he designed, and there is no problem with that rationale.

While Jacobs received endless scrutiny for his choice of headwear, first-time NYFW designer Anniesa Hassibuan made history presenting the first all-Hijab fashion show ever at New York Fashion Week. The designer kept her inspiration close to home, reflecting her hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia in her clothing.

Each of the models walked down the runway adorned in elaborate fabrics and an embellished Hijab, never before seen on a mainstream runway show. Hassibuan received a standing ovation for her show, and she received positive reviews on social media for her work. Although the show was ground-breaking and beautiful, there is an unfair double standard at play. Most, if not all of the women in Hassibuan’s show were not Muslim, and yet they were all wearing Hijab, a modest headscarf reminiscent of the Islamic faith. It is unfair to see Hassibuan’s interpretation of fashion as beautiful and Jacobs’ interpretation as cultural appropriation.

Although there is no denying that Jacobs’ comments after-the-fact were unacceptable, it is equally important to note that neither Jacobs nor Hassibuan were advocating cultural appropriation in their shows.

Gulrukh Haroon is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at