When Marc Jacobs drew from a myriad of global references to create his SS17 show earlier this month in New York, there followed a storm of admonition on social media. It wasn’t his use of Harajuku, 1970s’ glam rock, transvestite stripper, Camden punk or cyber-pirate references that offended. But the fact his models were all bewigged in candy-coloured dreadlocks. Cultural appropriation! Offensive! How dare he?!
Jacobs, unwisely, laughed the criticism off as being ridiculous. Only to unleash another volley of abuse. For what it’s worth, I thought the dreadlocks were symptomatic only of Jacobs’ promiscuous creative process, where each collection builds on a tonne of different inspirations from all over the world which seem relevant at the time. I had no issue with it at all. Surely, cultural appropriation requires rather more of the culture to have been appropriated than a lock of hair: see Tommy Hilfiger’s Reggae-style SS16 show if you want a lesson in how to do it wholesale.
Anyway, why mention all this while reviewing a Giorgio Armani show? Because, like Jacobs, the 82-year-old designer had also taken a vast number of “ethnic” references (his word not mine) to create the “multicultural melange” that made up his SS17 show. Will the world “take to social media” (as that ghastly expression has it) to decry his references? Probably not, because where Marc Jacobs revels in the louder, punchier symbols of cultural diversity, here the references — African beadwork, Indian sarong skirts and veils — were smoothly assimilated into the calmly neutral Armani aesthetic. They were subtle; they were still very much a feature of the collection. Fashion could not exist without appropriation. It’s what it’s all about.
In typical Armani style, this collection was an otherwise uniformly calm meditation on the standard house codes: slim-fitting zipper leather jackets, of the sort Jodie Foster favours for public appearances; balloon-hemmed sarong skirts and pyjama-style trousers in tissue-thin pastel-printed georgette and organza. There was a strong floral pattern throughout and the palette was purple and blue, with shots of red, and lots of grey — sparkly micro-sequin silver shorts that fell elegantly to just below mid-thigh, ash-coloured collarless long-line jackets and boardroom-ready blazers with crimson piping. Many of the looks, and most of the accessories, had shawl fringing. The shorter evening looks were over-layered with lattice beadwork capes.
It was a gentle collection. The show notes described it as an exploration of “elegance and sensuality”, and it was dubbed “Charmani”. His words again, but unquestionably the greatest show title yet this season.