Further to this post about words vs images in fashion, I had a thought about fashion’s chronic cultural insensitivity problem. I have a friend who teaches a course at a fashion school. Recently, she staged a discussion with her students about Dolce & Gabbana’s SS13 collection, notorious for its ‘Blackamoor’ earrings. She brought up the same issue in two classes, and one class was instantly offended, whereas the other class seemed baffled about why it was even an issue.
I was really curious about why there would be such a difference between two classes in the same school. Apparently, the class that took offense were communications students - young people studying journalism, curation or fashion history. The class that were nonplussed, were fashion design students.
Most fashion designers have no training - or inclination, for that matter - to develop critical or analytical thought. They are trained to develop visual intelligence. With an absence of words in their education, the way they process what they consume is often based primarily on appearances, not meaning. Thus, what Robin Givhan describes as the ‘paint chip’ problem. When fashion designers see something as inspiration, their natural instinct is usually to assess only how it looks, the social significance is pretty much always overlooked. The way most designers are taught to gather inspiration involves looking at lots of pictures and wholly ignoring the text.
The result of training designers to think mostly in terms of colours, materials and composition without any emphasis on cultural literacy means egregious, ridiculous oversights like this D&G collection will keep happening over and over again.