With fashion’s runways littered with everything from dreadlock wigs to baby hair, Masai jewellery and Native American patterns, conversation around appropriation has never been so heated – with designers often accused of using elements of other cultures to spice up their collections. In an interview with Rebecca Gonsalves for The Independentahead of his new exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, Belgian fashion legend Dries Van Noten weighed in on the debate.
“You can’t just do whatever you want,” he explained. “When it’s sacred, when it's religious, you have to be careful. It’s not just an object; it’s not just a thing. I want to pay respect to that; I think there are enough things in the world that you don't have to go that way. It’s important that it feels honest, but it is fashion – I have no problem mixing Japanese motifs and Chinese emblems in the same fabric, for instance.”
Van Noten is known for his use of traditional fabrics and prints from around the world – something grounded in his hometown Antwerp, a historical trade centre. What marks his use however is a sense of respect. Take his AW15 collection which bore reference to China, from its imperial brocade coats with Mongolian fur collars, to its dragon-embroidered bomber jackets. Never heavy-handed, Van Noten's reference steered clear of an insensitive cultural cliché.