Dior’s Cruise show was essentially a luxury brand trying to reinvent the wheel and present something we have been doing in Africa for decades as cutting edge fashion. How much longer will we stand for it?
During her illustrious career at the helm of Dior, Maria Grazia Chuiri has tackled many a topic including feminism and has come under fire for creating outfits that were exact replicas of Romanian folk outfits. This appropriation led an online campaign to be created against her and the french fashion house called #GiveCredit.
Whilst that blew over, another storm is brewing in the wake of the Dior Cruise 2020 show held in Morocco and featuring heavy, wax print, ankara which is symbolic of the European colonialism in Africa.
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Wild animals roamed across the jewelry from the #DiorCruise 2020 collection by #MariaGraziaChiuri, possibly having escaped from her toile de Jouy print. (The power of nature is a recurrent theme across the House’s archives, notably in the designs of former Dior Creative Director Marc Bohan.) Also check out the crafty updates of the House's iconic accessories from the just-wrapped show in Marrakesh! #DiorCommonGround © @BleuManet
Clothes that were made locally were the norm and clothes were handmade stories of our rich ancestry, culture and heritage in the form of intriguing shapes, patterns, colours and symbolic messages. Ankara, while not produced by Africans, were similarly based on these very shapes and symbols. However, what was meant to identify ‘Africa’, turned into something much more counter-productive and exploitative for the continent as a whole.
Although textiles produced for the West African market were based on traditional African symbols, Africans never held the rights to these stories, the Dutch did and they had the means to produce them over and over again. Regardless of the widely debated origins of Ankara, it thrived. The rewards of its success , however, have been enjoyed far away from the continent.
Instead, manufacturing of our own textiles has suffered as a result and something borne out of Africa has benefited us very little, yet another example of the effects of colonialism on the continent. In the words of respected artists, Yinka Shonibare, “The fabrics are made in African styles so in that sense it is African. We (Africans) have a right to take anything from the world and appropriate it as we see fit. We are no longer – we never were anyway – cut off from the world.”
“Maria Grazia Chiuri has always had her heart set on establishing creative exchanges with African cultures,” Dior explained in a press release. “With this collection, she sought to dialogue with the real and imagined landscape of Morocco, at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Europe and Africa, as a dream destination for artists, poets, writers and eternal adventurers.”
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The multicultural origins of Wax print fabrics, as a textile whose story weaves between Asia, Europe and Africa, served as the rich leitmotif of the #DiorCruise 2020 Cruise show by #MariaGraziaChiuri, held at the El Badi Palace in Marrakesh. Accompanied by anthropologist Anne Grosfilley, a specialist in African textiles and fashions, our Creative Director collaborated with the Ivory Coast-based factory @Uniwaxciv whose illustrators were given free reign to reinterpret elements of the House's heritage. Mixing signature Dior motifs like 'toile de Jouy' and 'tarot' cards on genuine 100% Made in Africa Wax print fabrics, see the resulting special-edition prints on this trio of looks shot backstage. They're also paired with key accessories from the show, including a summery update on the iconic 'Lady Dior' bag in woven leather! #DiorCommonGround © @Morgan_ODonovan
Framing the show as a ‘celebration of African craftsmanship’; Dior missed a few key points which would have salvaged their misdirected show. According to The Standard, ”a show in Marrakech – the brand’s first major event in Morocco – was the fitting destination in which to show a collection that championed a cultural exchange between the codes of Dior and those of pan-African craftsmanship.” However, this supposed cultural exchange was not all it was painted out to be.
To drive this cultural exchangeable, Maria consulted at length with Anne Grosfilley, a French native, who is an expert in African textiles and fashions. Maria also commissioned Abidjan-based company, Uniwax, a company belonging to Vlisco which is based in the Netherlands, to create an authentic wax print fabric use throughout the collection.
Maria used a non-African woman and a non-African company to be the mouthpiece for a continent that is so rich in culture and heritage, a culture and heritage that neither Anne Grosfilley nor Uniwax are privy to.
The show notes featured an extract from Tahar Ben Jelloun’s book, Racism Explained to My Daughter: “Culture teaches us to live together, teaches us that we’re not alone in the world, that other people have different traditions and ways of living that are just as valid as our own.”
However, to write African people out of the very narrative they created is erasure and a form of racism. If Dior wants to reference our culture, they should have consulted us. Instead, they chose to work with people whose very existence is threatens our own fashion and textiles eco-system.