Fashion editor Suzy Menkes writes that designer Kim Jones has started his new role as men's style director at Louis Vuitton "with a mission: to embrace, via the luxury label's travel history, the craft and culture of Africa." What does that mean?
In addition to the safari-inspired Vogue photoshoot starring Keira Knightley and an elephant with a LV blanket, we've seen some super-stereotypical, offensive "inspiration" on the runway from Louis Vuitton before — those are "tribal mask" LV shoes from 2008 on the top left and bottom right; Dior "fertility goddess" heels on the top right and bottom left. And De Beers — the diamond company which was built on the backs of "poorly-paid, abominably treated native African workers," and is often accused of human rights violations — made "tribal" amulets a couple of years ago. Which tribe was being "embraced"?
Africa is a continent of about 11 million square miles, consisting of 54 different countries. Among them: Egypt, Morocco, Cameroon and Somalia. Each of those countries has a completely different culture; not one of them is known for its elephants. There is, however, an elephant on Jones's mood board.
As Hannah Pool wrote about the "tribal" trend in 2009:
Why is it that when fashion decides to go "ethnic" it invariably ends up patronising whatever culture it has taken inspiration from? [...] How refreshing it would be if, just once, someone of Jacobs's calibre said, "These jeans were inspired by a woman I saw in a club in Lagos", or "This hat is my interpretation of one I saw at a wedding in Eritrea", but instead Africa (and Asia and Latin America) is always reduced to one look, as if it were a tiny village where everyone dresses the same, rather than an immense continent where styles come in and out of fashion just like they do everywhere else.
In Jones' defense, although he is British and was born in the UK, he spent part of his childhood in Botswana and Ethiopia, and says, "Living with little lizards, snakes and elephants or being chased by baboons — it never really goes away." Hopefully he can find a way to be truly inspired, and leave the tired clichés behind.
Out of Africa [NY Times]