Hair’s Getting A Little Messy

Models in the Marc Jacobs 2017 S/S runway show

Last week, designer Marc Jacobs sparked controversy for featuring colorful dreadlocks on the runway for its appropriation of black culture and beauty. Of course that was not the intention for the hairdo. Hairstylist, Guido Paulo, explained that his inspiration came from, “ravers, acid house, travelers, Boy George, [the singer] Marilyn in the ’80s, Harajuku girls” — with no mention of the hair’s cultural roots”. Twitter was bursting at the seams with comments critiquing the inappropriate-ness of Jacobs’ use of dreadlocks.

Marc Jacobs did a runway show with white models wearing fake dreadlocks. IT’S TIME TO ARGUE ONLINE!
— Petty Rubble (@AshVille34) September 15, 2016
Why couldn’t Marc Jacobs hire black models with real dreadlocks? Is that so hard?
— Ella/SJNLK (@stunningselmg) September 15, 2016
Marc Jacobs has those cute ass outfits this season but put dreadlocks on the girls I’m so-
— lil sabastian ✨ (@GlitterDoll103) September 15, 2016
Just put on the Marc Jacobs live stream. I see colored dreadlocks. Are we talking about cultural appropriation yet or? #NYFW
— Sarah Tinoco (@SarahJTinoco) September 15, 2016
*sits back and waits for my timeline to fall apart once they see Marc Jacobs is featuring a dreadlock only runway.
— Colin Anderson (@BallinWithColin) September 15, 2016

Now, I am not here to take sides on this controversy. I just want to take a closer look at the entire picture. Though it is the white models that have angered critics, Jacobs actually features a lot of ethnically diverse models in the show. The Caucasian models may have garnered more attention because Jacobs featured very famous supermodels- Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss, Kendall Jenner- to name a few. The issue may have escalated quickly because these models are always in the spotlight. Their faces appear all over the internet, television, and magazines everyday, so their actions are always being closely monitored. Any little misstep they take is plastered over social media within seconds.

There is also a critical fact about the hairdo that is not recognized by any of these Twitter provocateurs. The multi-color wool hairstyle was featured in the magazine spread of the S/S 16 campaign. Lana Wachowski, a leading model in the campaign, is also sporting colorful dreadlocks.

It is interesting to note that Wachowski was chosen as one of the head models for the campaign because of her individuality, as an inspiring member of the trans-community. Jacobs was applauded for his “willingness to cast diverse role models and use publicity surrounding campaigns as an opportunity to promote awareness”. His campaign is meant to ‘embody and celebrate the spirit and beauty of equality’. It is ironic to see that the runway show completely flipped Jacobs’ intentions around. Beauty of equality became a discrimination of beauty.

After going through many articles on the “dreadlock controversy”, I found no critiques on Wachowski’s pastel dreadlocks featured on this campaign spread. Are her dreadlocks any less provocative? Perhaps they are slightly more subdued. Regardless, the theme between the campaign and the runway show are the same; however, the conversations between the runway and the campaign are very different.

Marc Jacobs and Lana Wachowski

So has Marc Jacobs taken one step forward, two steps back in the name of fashion?

Marc Jacobs responds to the backlash on his Instagram with the following statement.

“I have read all your comments and I thank you for expressing your feelings... 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.”

I think Jacobs makes a strong statement here about the freedom people have in America to express oneself. America is a vastly diverse country and he made sure to represent that by featuring models of all different races. Hair featured on the runway is not everyday hair and it is not easy to replicate. It is unusual, spectacular, or provocative. Runways are constantly experimenting with extensions and wigs and dyed hair and Marie Antoinette-style hairstyles, in order to come up with something that has never been done before. Isn’t that what fashion is? Expressing yourself in an unique way? There are so many factors in the case of the Jacobs’ hairdo. So is this a case of cultural appropriation? Or is America becoming too sensitive and too politically correct.