How political correctness offends fashion

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LEO BALANTE

Early this month, musical genius and fashion powerhouse Pharrell outed a Holi-inspired collection in collaboration with Adidas, which gained enormous public backlash for falling into the traps of “ cultural appropriation”.

The Adidas Originals x Pharrell Hu Holi Powder Dye collection, described and intended by the brand itself as a “continuation of the Hu journey, reflecting Pharrell’s founding vision of energy, color and spirituality as a unifying force between peoples” was deemed insensitive to the culture the collection borrowed it from.

While Pharrell’s project was first released in India at the onset of March before it became available to the rest of the world, naysayers still have a lot to say about the politically-correct guidelines Pharrell and the brand apparently violated. On Twitter, one user said, “A European company getting an American musician to market a line of apparel/footwear inspired by an Indian festival. Don’t really care, but yuppp, technically, this is cultural appropriation.”

A cursory search of this phrase puts “cultural appropriation” as “a concept in sociology dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture. It is distinguished from equal cultural exchange due to the presence of a colonial element and imbalance of power.”

In response to the flak the collection received, Adidas tells online portal Footwear News, “Adidas Originals and Pharrell Williams created Hu as a global platform to inspire positive change. Hu was founded upon the principles of unity, equality, humanity and color with an intention to explore humanity and celebrate diversity around the world. Together, Adidas Originals and Pharrell Williams use the platform to help tell stories of others from around the globe.”


But still, even with its good intentions, politically correct (P.C.) advocates call this out for technically being insensitive to the existing culture it vows to celebrate. Cultural appropriation, has in turn, become the PC advocates’ favorite sin to accuse people of.

Of note, mid-March, the iconic movie Black Panther, has entered its fifth consecutive week atop the Hollywood and the world box-office. Celebrated for its well-rounded depiction of the make-believe world of Wakanda, apparently borrowing and mirroring the rich culture of the African continent, it is interesting to see that the line that many politically correct advocates like to create, gets blurred.

Adidas Pharrell Williams collection

Marvel’s senior visual development illustrator, Anthony Francisco, born and raised in the Philippines, claims to have borrowed elements from his Filipino upbringing and meshed them with African sartorial splendor to come up with the costumes, specifically of the Dora Milaje—or the powerful female warriors cheered on the big screen.

Technically, and I emphasize on the “technically”, Black Panther, an American movie outfit, starring an American-born and raised African-American actor, “profited” by “celebrating” African culture, with infused Filipino design inspirations from its illustrators and applied it to a make-believe fictional world—and the rest of us applauded and took this as a step forward into a world of acceptance—where one’s culture could and should be celebrated by others.

But no. Now, appreciation can, and will, ultimately be charged with appropriation, and while “appropriation” doesn’t necessarily have offensive intentions—ceaseless conversations around it are.

To me, it simply means that one’s culture is not worthy of the mainstream, that it is not deserving of public attention. Nowadays, patronizing a culture that isn’t your own means you are disrespecting this culture. Your tribal earrings, your tribal-patterned jacket or skirt, or your Chinese-looking eyeliner are actually racist.

Costume from Black Panther (left) and its Filipino inspiration

Why can’t we just be playful, and fun and inclusive? Why can’t we live in a world where Cher, in the 1980s, can wear an eclectic Indian-inspired number without being crucified, the way self-righteous Twitter commenters would call it offensive. Isn’t that, in itself, offensive? Isn’t that saying that cultural segregation should remain?

Today, you can easily become Emma Roberts who, apparently shouldn’t have posted a photo of herself wearing chopsticks in her hair and dragon-printed clutch in hand on her way to the Chinese-themed Met Gala in 2015.

We have entered an era of “woke-ness” that somehow, doesn’t create oneness and awareness but has created a line that demarcates “left” and “right”, the “here” and the “there”. Fashion and style, as it is supposed to be a celebration, is now filled with restrictions, because, apparently, you can’t wear something that is not your culture.

And this discourse is not just about not having the freedom to wear a pattern one wishes without being judged for appropriating one’s culture. This to me, is a war on embracing a culture that may not necessarily be yours.

That being said, as boundless as we claim we want the world to be, nowadays, cultural appropriation, not just in fashion, has in fact, created a division. Instead of fashion becoming a celebration, appropriation has concocted a convoluted world of restrictions. In itself, telling people that they can’t enjoy particular clothes, food, and even music genre (Bruno Mars was actually called out for cultural appropriation for getting inspired by so-called ‘black’ music), largely stops culture from growing.

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