Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have been lauded for their work at Valentino since taking the helm after the founder’s retirement in October 2008. While their latest collection paid testament to the incredible skill of the house’s ateliers and left the audience cheering, it has sparked controversy on social media.
Showcased on a cast of predominantly white girls (eight out of the show’s 87 looks were given to black models), the clothes were inspired by “wild, tribal Africa”. As the maison described on Twitter, “Primitive, tribal, spiritual, yet regal”, the collection was a “journey to the beginning of time & the essential of primitive nature.”
Tropes typically associated with the continent were incorporated, including bone necklaces, Kikuyu textiles, raffia, belts made from African trade beads, embellishment and embroidering, feathers and fringing. The models themselves wore their hair in cornrows and dreadlocks. And the soundtrack? Bongo-style drumming.
The maison has since been met with accusations of cultural appropriation and ignorance, particularly when it came to the models’ cornrows and the lack of black representation in the show itself. “Returned from my shower to find Valentino putting cornrows and dreadlocks in their white models' hair,” wrote one user. “Stop doing this shit. Just stop.”
Cultural appropriation has been a heated topic this year, particularly since The Hunger Games actress and Dazed cover star Amandla Stenberg released a school-project-turned-viral-video on the topic titled Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows. “Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalisations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high-fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves,” she explained – later calling out Kylie Jenner for wearing them.
While it’s unlikely that Valentino were intending to be malicious, it seems their show reflects larger problems in fashion – a lack of diversity on the runways and a belief that elements of rich cultures can be borrowed and commodified into luxury goods without consequence.