Tuesday, 8 February 2011


(Jean Paul Gaultier)

The subject of cultural identity has been slowly seeping into my consciousness.

While currently working at News International I have daily access to their newspapers (flicking through the lifestyle pages during lunchtime) and following on from recent University lectures on identity, representation and choice – I’m suddenly finding myself more aware that this area of conversation is one I am having more (if only with myself).

The 'Big Society' is one of the topics that many a Times article centres around and how we can adopt a harmonious multicultural society in which our needs and beliefs are respected yet the values of Britain kept whole is one of their favourite areas of discussion.

Indeed, one of the key issues here is what constitutes the values of Britain? Furthermore, what is it to be British? For this post I will not delve into these areas as they are fraught with tensions and complex issues of identity that may veer too complex for even I, who is obsessed with equality and harmony and all that jazz.

More precisely this isn’t a social commentary blog, however, Susie Bubble raised the question of ethnicity in fashion in her recent post (so good I felt it was an article) which in turn got me asking myself questions about the representation or (mis) thereof of ‘ethnic’ communities in fashion.

(John Galliano)

Although it is naive to assume that the minorities are reflected in a fair and equal way in fashion – as highlighted in this Vogue article, it is also dangerous to assume that designers are merely exploiting non-western traditions in order to gain acclaim/sales for their collections.

(Jean Paul Gaultier)

Rather the contrary, without these influences fashion would veer only to the traditions of the biggest (in terms of global market influence) of the western lands UK, USA etc. which all, have their roots firmly planted in traditions and cultures not of their own but of the land they/we have come to occupy: the Viking, Normans and Romans for us Brits and the Red Indians and to a large extent, African Americans for the Yanks. Put simply the very essence of the west is ethnicity; the only difference is that over years of watering down the vivacity of ethnic societies has been lost to the west. Perhaps designers are aiming to bring this sense of ethnic exuberance back to a western world of white modern values that sometimes lacks the colour and traditions of its cousins. Or maybe that’s just reading into it too much (?).

(Jean Paul Gaultier)

So to be the advocate to my own argument that then means that designers are using ethnic influences to reach that acclaim I mentioned earlier. As the model suggests in order to get the most acclaim, one must reach the biggest audience. Pop. Culture. As the biggest audience is currently white and western this would mean designers would just have to design with influences in mind that would appeal to this audience (not a gesture to the cultures as the lady in Susie’s post alludes to).

But you see this isn’t what fashion is, at its source - the designers mind. Fashion at conception is not about being popular – that is what the PR, Editors, Buyers and High Street interpretations do. The designer is showing us a story that we can read and sometimes that story involves a journey to a distant land or a jolly into the western past.

As a person with ethnic roots it doesn’t seem that the designers are specifically catering for ethnic markets when they release collections but instead have experienced a journey they want to share with us.


Their designs tell us a story. A story that can take place anywhere. Anywhere in the world.



  1. excellent and intelligent post. more of this (y)

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