Gucci turban controversy hits the runway


Once again the fashion industry has defended its position as one of the most predominant sources of cultural appropriation. This past week Gucci faced backlash for its Fall 2018 fashion show where white models walked down the runway wearing traditional turbans.

Following the controversial runway show, users took to social media to express their disapproval for the brand’s “cultural ignorance.” Many viewers accused the brand of acting irresponsibly and offensively towards Sikh culture and called for a protest against Gucci products.

The turban signifies an important religious symbol for practicing Sikhs, many of whom took offense to Gucci’s casual and improper usage of the turban. Prominent members of the Sikh community have since invited support from the general public and other ethnic minorities in protesting the company. A prominent Sikh social activist Harjinder Singh Kukreja wrote on Twitter:

Dear @gucci, the Sikh Turban is not a hot new accessory for white models but an article of faith for practising Sikhs. Your models have used Turbans as 'hats' whereas practising Sikhs tie them neatly fold-by-fold. Using fake Sikhs/Turbans is worse than selling fake Gucci products."

Others have called into question Gucci’s decision not to use models of color in its show. Canadian actor and model Avan Jogia joined in mocking the iconic company, tweeting “could you not find a brown model?”

Gucci’s decision to selectively choose aspects of a culture for its commercial well-being, while simultaneously attributing these aspects to white culture, is damaging and represents a history of dominant cultures suppressing minority cultural expression. Gucci, and its fashion peers, effectively stole the identity of a culture without paying any respect or concern for the conditions these people have faced under Western oppression. The models wearing the turbans in Gucci’s runway show will never realize the religious and symbolic implications behind wearing the headpiece nor will they ever face the racial prejudice Sikhs often encounter.

Yet Gucci’s problematic Fall 2018 show follows a disturbing precedent of high fashion appropriating traditional or sacred dress for the sake of aesthetics. Stella McCartney recently came under critique for utilizing a popular Ankara print in her Spring 2018 runway show in Paris. The print originated in West Africa and carries significant cultural and tribal meaning. While the designer profited from her designs, there was no acknowledgment or attribution to the West African culture that popularized these patterns centuries ago. The Stella McCartney show also failed to feature even one model of African descent in the show, despite the blatant usage of African fashion.

This type of fashion colonialism allows top-end designers to appropriate local culture and profit from it under the guise that it was their discovery, while also failing to take any action to further advance these groups in modern society. Instead, these shows and portrayals, dismiss the plight these groups have suffered under cultural colonialism and as consequence disrespect the cultures these fashions originated from.

Cameron de Matteis