One step too far?

Just how insensitive is Gucci’s use of the sikh turban at PFW?

In this midst of Milan fashion week, Gucci presented its fall collection. And although it has mainly been in the news for its use of severed heads, third eyes and even baby dragons, the collection featured a piece of headwear that has, understandably, caused a lot of uproar in both fashion and religious communities. The Gucci models walked the catwalk sporting Sikh turbans, known as dastaars, with no credit to their origin or religious history; the turbans traditionally cover a person’s hair but the models’ hair could be seen tumbling from their ‘accessories’, and many are complaining about cultural appropriation. This has been accentuated  as the models were white-european, when Sikhism is a religion most predominant in India.

Canadian actor and activist, Avan Jogia, tweeted “Yo.. gucci … I mess with you guys… but this isn’t a good look for you… could you not find a brown model?”. There have been similar comments from both Sikhs and non-Sikhs. The complaints are mainly concerned that the religious significance of the item has been disregarded. Sikh philanthropist, Harjinder Singh Kukreja, said “Dear Gucci, the Sikh Turban is not a hot new accessory for white models but an article of faith for practising Sikhs.”, a sentiment that has been backed by many individuals online and in the media. Another issue is that real Sikhs are discriminated against for practising their religion, but when people wear a turban in this context, it is seen as fashion statement. This is particularly relevant as the show came after a racist attack in which a Sikh man had his turban ripped from his head whilst waiting to meet an MP outside of the Houses of Parliament.

Cultural appropriation isn’t rare in fashion, with designers often pushing the limits in pursuit of ‘innovation’, but many believe it comes from a disregard for different cultures and a lack of respect for items of clothing with religious or social importance. Plenty of big brands have been a part of this; Victoria’s Secret have been criticised previously, with a Native American headdress being worn by white model Karlie Kloss to represent the month of November (Thanksgiving) in their Calendar Girls section in 2012. They were also accused of this in their 2017 fashion show, with Chinese apparel being worn by mainly white models. Marc Jacobs is another name that has been challenged this season by styling his white models with pastel dreadlocks in his SS17 show – Jacobs has spoken out saying “Maybe I’ve been insensitive.”, a rather underwhelming statement for those who hoped for more recognition and regret about the creative decision. Personally, I believe that religious items can be acceptable to use in fashion but only if designers are acknowledging and celebrating those religions, not simply taking articles of clothing that they deem trendy and putting them on models. We can only hope that designers will learn from this in the future, and use fashion to decrease inequality, not perpetuate it.

Emma Durston