When cultural inspiration becomes cultural appropriation?


We have been talking a lot about Eastern European culture and fashion lately, at the risk of sounding repetitive, we know it, but we can’t help it!

Fashion has seriously drawn inspiration from traditional Eastern European culture lately. Big houses such as Louis Vuitton and Valentino have used traditional designs from those countries in their collections; Dior, for example, presented in its collection a jacket inspired on a Romanian jacket from Bihor. 

Bihor Couture was created to help Romanian craftsmen and designers show and sell their authentic creations and thus, be able to keep alive their craft. You can buy online the beautiful hand-made beaded chokers, embroidered shirts and jackets that are part of the colourful local outfits that have been worn for generations, together with the traditional scarfs and long skirts with aprons. The “Dior jacket” is a typical women’s jacket from Beius that has been made since the 19th century, in leather with the fantastic embroidery and black and red buttons embellishing it. Each jacket is entirely hand-made and takes an entire month to be ready. 

La Blouse Roumaine writes Dior an open letter on Instagram

While fashion houses find inspiration in other cultures, there is a thin line between cultural inspiration and cultural appropriation, which causes a considerable discussion in the fashion world.

We think there is nothing wrong with cultural inspiration, this is actually, a form of flattery and appreciation of a particular culture or movement. When Maria Grazia Chiuri uses the youth movement and the Parisian protests of 1968 as inspiration for Dior's latest collection, the French brand’s artistic director is in fact, paying homage and drawing attention to the fight for equal rights that the ’68 protests started. 

The problem is when a brand doesn’t give credit to the original thing that inspired the designer. For example, the embroidered jacket from the Dior Couture collection, which was clearly inspired on the traditional Romanian vest, was sold for 30.000 Euros. The Romanian craftsmen didn’t receive any money or credit for their design and continued being almost unknown to the rest of the world.

Susan Scafidi, the founder of the Fashion Law Institute, says that designers should make a creative collaboration with the source communities and their artists so to bring “recognition and economic benefit to both sides”.

The Brazilian brand Osklen, for example, made a collaboration with an Amazonian tribe some years ago. Not only did the members of the tribe receive royalties that helped their community, but they also got visibility for their fight against illegal loggers who were invading their land.

Osklen Ashaninka collection, in collaboration with the Amazonian tribe

Cultural exchange is a marvellous thing, it is both inspiring and enriching, but it should always be done with some collaboration in order to be fair.

Photos via Osklen, La Blouse Roumaine and Bihor