You might’ve seen Gucci’s fall collection at Milan Fashion Week recently.
Instead of the usual luxury, kooky fashion we see on the runway, there was one incongruous item that caught a lot of eyes.
Gucci has used white models to showcase turbans, an item of clothing specific to Sikh religion and culture.
Understandably, it’s caused outcry online.
People felt that Gucci was culturally appropriating the staple, which goes beyond fashion for most Sikhs.
Known as a dastaar, it is the most commonly recognised symbol of the Sikh community (but may be used by other groups).
It’s an article of faith partly to cover long uncut hair and is worn mostly by Sikh boys and men, many of whom who’ve struggled with wearing it in western spaces.
So a luxury brand that imitates a religiously loaded item on a runway, without credit to its origin and history, and using white people to model fits all the components of cultural appropriation.
Indian model and actor Avan Jogia, 32, shared his disappointment with the creative director Alessandro Michele’s decision on Twitter.
The Nickelodeon television star, who has roots in Hinduism and Buddhism, fumed: ‘This isn’t a good look for you. Could you not find a brown model?’
He also asked others to publically condemn Gucci’s actions, even those who might not be affected by it.
‘Other people of colour, this happens to all of us, say something even if it doesn’t apply to you personally’ he urged.
Designer Alessandro Michele drew inspiration from Donna Haraway’s 1984 essay on ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, but appropriated a bunch of other styles like bindis, headscarves, and accessories.
For those wondering why it’s appropriation, and not, say, appreciation, it’s because of the power dynamics at play.
Young diaspora Sikh boys get bullied at school for being ‘different’ while men in education or work are discriminated against for their turbans.
When you also consider the hate crimes towards Sikhs, heightened after 9/11 by ignorant racists mistaking them for Muslims, the turban is especially loaded.
Why should a luxury fashion brand which has never spoken up for Sikh causes be allowed to benefit from an item that is fundamental to their culture?
Gucci’s Milan fashion show, after all, will get the publicity and money that has never afforded to nor benefited the Sikh community.
sikh boys come home crying to their parents after being bullied at school saying they want to cut their hair + take their turban off. OH BUT NOW IT'S FARSHUN DARLING @gucci
— Sohan Judge (@SohanJudge) February 22, 2018
A few people have said it’s harmless, as it popularises the turban, exposing it to people who may otherwise not come into contact with it.
The problem with such attitudes is relying on a dominant white group to ‘put it on the map’.
It takes away its authenticity; Why does it need to be popularised at the hands of a white, western brand?
Why should it only be fashionable when a white group are seen to be wearing it?
What is a turban used for?
The dastaar is an article of faith that represents honour, self-respect, courage, spirituality, and piety.
For a Sikh, the dastaar is a religious requirement by the Guru’s own injunction seen as a ‘gift’.
Dastaar is an essential article of faith for male Sikhs, men must wear it, while it is optional for women.
What’s more is, most industries are already white-dominated.
If Gucci had sincere intentions to diversify their brand and incorporate other cultural designs, why not at least use a Sikh model?
Citing reasons like there aren’t enough Sikh models or needing someone more experienced is all part of the problem.
Unconscious biases stop certain minorities excelling in majority-white industries in the first place, so when it comes to incorporating a much-needed diversity, there are not enough models of colour to work with.
Had Gucci carried out a quick Instagram or Twitter search, they could’ve been lauded for using a minority model and possibly launching their career rather than the controversial headlines it finds itself in now.
Any single Sikh model could’ve been used, had the brand at least tried to reach out.
What’s more if that the designer used the turbans as costumes, something that can be taken off and never thought of again.
For most Sikhs, this is not an option, it’s a lifetime commitment and is a signifier of honour, self-respect, courage, spirituality, and piety.
It means none of those things to Gucci.