Marc Jacobs' Struggle with Cultural Appropriation

Written by Cooper Bush


Marc Jacobs is one of the most recognizable names in modern fashion. His labels command high prices across luxury clothing and cosmetics. Jacobs is also very well known for his consistent support of pro-LGBT causes, placing him in a category of social awareness that outdoes the likes of many of his peers across the fashion industry. But Jacobs has consistently exploited a key demographic to which he does not belong: black people.

Marc Jacobs consistently receives attention for his avant garde fashion week presentations, the notable silence of his runways, and the diversity of his designs. But that diversity of design has come on the back of cultural appropriation in his most recent Spring runway display.

For Spring 2017, Jacobs sent a flock of predominantly white models down his runway wearing multicolored dreadlocks. The conversation about why white people should not wear dreads has been hashed and rehashed so many times that it would be absolutely unecessary  to explain any further. The fact that Jacobs sent his models out wearing them despite its controversy speaks not only to his own apparent ignorance, but also to the lack of any black presence on his design team that could inform him that his choice was a bad one. When backlash against the show mounted across social media, Jacobs’ immediate response included the phrase “I don’t see color,” so I guess that’s problem solved. Thanks Marc! In a follow-up Instagram post, he apologized for his “brevity” by saying “I DO NOT discriminate. THAT IS A FACT!”

Since last year’s show, Jacobs has been publicly repentant, and for the most part, able to repair his image. The world has had much bigger fish to fry in the twelve months since that fashion week.  But at this year’s New York Fashion Week, Jacobs appears to have relapsed. For his Spring ‘18 collection, Jacobs sent his models down the runway wearing a different and less popularly contentious piece of black culture, the head wrap. Backlash against the head wraps on another gaggle of mostly white models from a white designer was quieter than last year’s controversial  dreadlocks, but the subtext of the choice is much worse.  

Jacobs has now placed black culture on white models’ heads for two years in a row, and appears not to have learned a single lesson from his first debacle. He did the same exact racist thing via slightly different avenues twice in a row. How could someone who had publicly apologized and professed his learning from his previous experience make the exact same mistake again?

The answer is troubling, and it is that these choices are not mistakes.

Jacobs cannot plead ignorance to the issue of his appropriation of black culture this year. He made a conscious decision when he sent those models down the runway in head wraps. The impetus of his decision cannot be traced, but it hinges on a racist logic which situates blackness firmly within the ownership of whiteness. This logic is a persistent feature of American ideals, and has been since 1776. Jacobs has harnessed the consumer value of black exploitation for fashion just as our forefathers harnessed that value for slavery until the end of the nineteenth century.  

To be clear, it is obviously not Jacobs’ fault that racism exists. It’s not even really his fault that he is racist. What absolutely is his fault, and what he absolutely must take responsibility for, is his refusal to stop his racism from manifesting, or to even acknowledge that perhaps he may not be perfectly nondiscriminatory.  As a thinking and compassionate person, Jacobs needs to take steps to alter his obvious pattern of exploitation.

This exact conversation is being had across every sector of the United States today.  My opinion is not original or unique, it has been hashed and rehashed just as many times as the idea that white people should not wear dreadlocks.  Marc Jacobs’ racism is not novel, but it is a good case study of the will some people have to remain ignorant in this era of easily accessible, high-saturation information.


Edited by Jenna Caldwell

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