• Abbi Bayliss

Dear Comme Des Garçons: What were you thinking?

Do you remember the Marc Jacobs incident a few years ago? You know, the one where the brand sent models such as Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid down the runway with pastel coloured dreadlocks at New York Fashion Week, ignorant to how they we’re appropriating black culture for their own? How about the Valentino scandal (of which there are many so take your pick), styling the predominantly white models with “punky” cornrows and bantu knots. Well, we have a new fashion statement in the ring by controversial house Comme Des Garçons: cornrow wigs. All together now, 1,2,3 Sighhhhh.

Sadly when i saw this all over my twitter feed I wasn’t even surprised, it was only a matter of time till someone gave Valentino a run for their money and Comme Des Garçon you take the crown. No matter how many times Black people articulate how offensive it is for their culture to be stolen, non white people turn a blind eye in ignorance.

A week ago at their Fall 2020 Menswear show, Comme Des Garçons sent their collective of models out on the catwalk with cornrow wigs, whilst the few of their black models wore wigs or chose to keep their natural hair. Braids are an integral part of Black culture, ancestrally and in modern society.These braids date back thousands of years, with certain styles being able to represent your age, marital status and even the clan you belong to. They were often beautifully decorated with silver and amber, adorning their heads like a crown. This significance in their culture however was stripped away from them, as slave owners brutally shaved their heads. It wasn’t until the 1960’s when we saw the Black Power Movement reject the European standard of beauty forced upon them and embrace their own culture as beautiful. This is why Comme Des Garçons claiming the hairstyle as its own innovative and “stylish” look with no thought to the history it represents has caused such an uproar.

Something that the masses picked up on was how badly the wigs were made. They fit loosely on the models head, with the impression it would fall off any minute. The bagginess emphasised how unprofessional and incongruous it looked on the white models. The wisps of hair at the front of the wig were unclear whether it was an awful attempt at baby hairs, or just a frizzy mess of stray hairs.

Hair stylist Julien d'Ys explains his inspiration was an “Egyptian Prince”, not intending to offend anyone. This provoked many to respond asking why the brand didn’t hire Egyptian models to fulfill their intended “Egyptian” look rather than recreate a culture that doesn’t belong to them. In reply to the hairstylists apologetic Instagram post, user Kharileigh aptly stated:

“In future, to avoid facing this heat again when taking inspiration from a culture that is not yours, PLEASE work closely with one from said culture to guide you in doing it properly. Your intention might not have been to culturally appropriate Egyptian culture, however your lack of care or awareness in executing it is extremely reckless and hence why it is deemed as cultural appropriation. Education alone avoids these situations, so learn from this and keep it pushing."

However many critic reviews of the show haven’t commented on their insensitivity but have praised the cornrow lace fronts, even glorifying them as “primitive chic.” It is clear that these in the industry have learned nothing from previous racist debacles but are more concerned with the assurance of their front row seats.

History continues to repeat itself as the old are too stubborn to listen and learn, thereby teaching the new to copy this pattern. The constant culture undermining is common, with the phrase “being able to steal anything we want” blurring the lines of appreciation and appropriation. As our history and our heritage is being used as experiments, we should try our best to build our resilience to these offensive attacks and focus on the positive within our own communities.