The Problem With Dreadlocks on the Marc Jacobs Runway

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15:  A model walks the runway at the Marc Jacobs fashion show durin New York Fashion Week at Hammerstein Ballroom on September 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Peter White/Getty Images)

The Problem With Dreadlocks on the Marc Jacobs Runway

Bet you no one accuses Kendall Jenner of smelling like weed.

Published September 16, 2016

Yesterday, the Marc Jacobs show closed out the nine-day frenzied circus that is otherwise known as New York Fashion Week. Marc Jacobs, easily one of New York’s most famed and talented designers, boasts one of the most anticipated shows of the season. He gets the last word, so to speak, since he shows on the last day right before all of the fashion glitterati head to the next stop on their world tour, London. But if you’ve been anywhere on the internet in the past 24 hours, you know that the Marc Jacobs show this season was a hotbed of controversy and not because of hemlines, but because of…hair. 

This is a photo backstage before the models walked the runway. If you identify about 15 dreadlocked heads, you’re correct. 

(Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Marc Jacobs)

The pastel-toned faux-locs were the brainchild of Marc himself in collaboration with notorious fashion hairstylist Guido Palau, who told Harper’s Bazaar the hair was reflective of “certain types of cultures, like rave culture, club culture, acid house, Boy George and Marilyn.” As a friend pointed out to me this morning, how can you look at this and mention Boy George but not George Clinton? 

The problem, of course, is not the references or even the fact that these dreadlocks appeared on the majority of white models in the show, but the erasure of any Black influences at all. This is not a narrative we should be unfamiliar with in 2016, where “boxer braids” took over social media and Vogue declared this “the year of the butt.”

The sheer exhaustion of demanding accountability from mainstream media is enough to drive anyone insane. Yet, those fighting the good fight still tried to bring attention to the problem of appropriation last night on social media. Responding to the photo on the brand’s account, Instagram users cried “Marc Jacobs is ignorant,” “Get him girl!!!! I’m not buying anything from his tacky ass line either!!!,” “I just lost all respect for you but then again I wouldn’t expect you to be educated on such things.”

To give some context to what happens next, I will say that Marc Jacobs is no stranger to both criticism and controversy. He responded, via Instagram, naturally, last year to an unfavorable Page Six article with an open letter to the writer a la Miss Taylor Swift. The letter read, “GIRL, I THINK I UNDERSTAND YOUR PAIN. YOU'RE A SICK WOMAN. IT MUST BE SUCH A SAD, UNFULFILLING AND LONELY EXISTENCE TO GET PAID FOR 'WRITING' (I USE THE TERM LOOSELY) AN ARTICLE PUT TOGETHER FROM OUT OF CONTEXT INFORMATION 'WRITTEN' BY OTHER JOURNALISTS OVER A PERIOD OF TIME, FOR DIFFERENT PERIODICALS, IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES. I CAN'T EVEN IMAGINE YOUR SUFFERING HAVING MADE A LIFE AND NAME WORKING FOR WHAT HAS TO BE THE WORLDS WORST, TRASHIEST, AND MOST IRRESPONSIBLE OF 'NEWSPAPERS' (LOL)! I CAN IMAGINE THE POWERFUL AND FULFILLING FEELING YOU MUST FEEL WITH EACH PIECE YOU 'WRITE' THAT HELPS YOURSELF AND YOUR READERS FEEL BETTER ABOUT THEIR LIVES BY PUTTING DOWN OTHERS WHO ARE SO FORTUNATE AS TO HAVE BEEN BLESSED WITH A GENUINE PASSION FOR CREATION.”  It goes on, but you get the idea.

So last night, Marc took to the haters from his own handle in a similarly aggressive way.

In a post that has since been deleted, but hello (!), this is 2016 and a screenshot lasts forever, Marc wrote, “All who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin color wearing their hair in any particular manner — funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair.” SKUUUURRRTTTT. OK, let’s pause right here before including the rest of Marc’s pathetic clapback. I was shocked to have read this last night while I was trying to fall asleep. Watching the internet continue to pop off on him, it was clear to me, even in my post-Fashion Week state of delusional exhaustion, but maybe not to Marc that his response misses the point entirely.

How exactly? Well, for starters, hair is a hugely political topic deeply fraught with meaning other than what one might see on the surface. Two weeks ago, students in South Africa were told that their “unruly” Afros would get them expelled. Zendaya was shamed by E! for wearing faux-locs to the Oscars just last year. So how wonderful of Marc Jacobs to deck out the likes of Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Adriana Lima with this “edgy” look. While this will undoubtedly herald praise for his innovation and creative genius, girls like Zendaya will be told they “look like they smell like weed.” Refinery 29 reports that the lead hairstylist Guido said backstage, "Marc takes something that's so street and raw and when it all comes together with the makeup and everything, the thing becomes a total look. It becomes something we'd bypass on the street and not really look at... And he makes us look at it again in a much more sophisticated, fashionable way." OK.

Marc continued to chat back and forth with Instagram followers, saying, “I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see any color or race.” While, I don’t doubt that that is true, this entire fiasco was disrespectful. Firstly, disrespectful to not reference the origins of dreadlocks in Black culture at all. Secondly, disrespectful to suggest that appropriation and assimilation (which would be what happens when women of color straighten their hair) are one in the same. Thirdly, disrespectful to react in such a defensive and volatile way on social media, where, lucky for us, you stepped into The Shade Room. And lastly, disrespectful to not apologize for any of the above.

We’ll be waiting for a statement from team Marc Jacobs but it is not likely that we will get one. Instead, what is more likely is the fashion world absorption of this “raver culture” hairstyle. I can’t wait to see what clever new name it gets. 

(Photo: JP Yim/Getty Images)

Written by Danielle Prescod

(Photo: Peter White/Getty Images)

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