Yesterday, Louis Vuitton showcased its new spring 2017 men’s collection in Paris, inspired by the childhood memories of creative director Kim Jones. Born in London, Jones grew up in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Botswana, developing a love for wildlife and conservation and producing a collection inspired by the various cultures of Africa.
Jones wanted to “evoke” Africa, but many runway collections don’t execute African-inspired fashion very gracefully, much less evoke it. Instead, they rely on stereotypes of Africa as a primitive, tribalistic monolith, images that continue to be used in the fashion world. African-themed collections often spark public outrage that leads to boycotting the company or petitioning for the offensive clothing being pulled from shelves, highlighting the very fine line between genuinely evoking and ignorantly appropriating.
Jones’s approach to the Louis Vuitton collection moves away from what’s typically considered typically “African.” There’s no stereotypical “staple” items like feathers, tribal patterns, kangas, safari shirts, or dashikis (which Elle Canada somehow called “the newest it-item”). Nobody is rocking war paint or wearing hay. Nobody is in glittery blackface—this time. Instead, the new collection splices animal prints with woven plaid, earth-colored silks and trousers, crocodile trench coats, and a red and blue sweater inspired by one of Jones’ childhood Masai blankets. But just because the collection didn’t unleash Twitter fury, it doesn’t mean it set the standard for ethnic-themed runway shows. For an African-theme collection, there were only seven models of color. The other 28 were white.
For a designer, an African-inspired line is a great way to exhibit some of the continent’s many beautiful patterns, colors, fabrics and trends, but it has to be done ethically and tastefully. Below are some things to consider to avoid turning an African-themed collection into a Joseph Conrad novel.