Screengrab via Marc Jacobs

Marc Jacobs does not understand cultural appropriation

The designer is being called out for using white models wearing dreadlocks.


Jaya Saxena


Published Sep 16, 2016   Updated May 26, 2021, 12:07 am CDT

Designer Marc Jacobs just proved that he has absolutely no idea how cultural appropriation works.

The designer’s Spring ’17 line runway show at New York Fashion Week featured a number of models wearing pastel dreadlocks. They were mostly white models. That already earned the designer some criticism, but when called out on it in a now-deleted Instagram post by Healthy Hair Journey, Jacobs responded with the classic “I don’t see color or race.”

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Jacobs tried to make the argument that white people wearing dreadlocks isn’t cultural appropriation because “you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair.” In response, black women and others have been declaring he’s officially “cancelled.”

Others have taken to Jacobs’ Instagram page to call him out. “Black women also have straight hair, blonde hair and blue eyes. To have dreadlocks, a look specific, historic and ancestral to black people and use them on white people is cultural appropriation. You love black aesthetic but not black people. You do in fact see color,” writes one commenter. “If you don’t see color, why are all your models white?” asked another.

Jacobs apologized on his Instagram. “Of course straight hair isn’t a white thing,” he wrote in the comments of one post. “I was referring to hair styling and texture for my fashion show and defensive. I apologize if I offended anyone at all. Certainly wasn’t my intention at all.”

Nobody criticizes women of color for straightening their hair because women of color are often punished for wearing their hair naturally (and, you know, many black women have hair textures that straighten easily, just like white women). Recently, black students at a South African high school have protested the school for suspending girls wearing their hair naturally. Google Image searches for “unprofessional hair” bring up images of black women in braids and afros.

In an op-ed for the Daily Dot, Alexandra Samuels wrote about a spread in Allure that taught white women how to wear afros. “When magazines like Allure offer afro tutorials to white women, it says that black culture is only cool, mainstream, and acceptable when white people can take it for themselves. When white women have afros, they’re on trend; when black women do it, they’re on the market for a new job.”

Marc Jacobs is no stranger to controversy. In 2011 he was criticized for using a 17-year-old Dakota Fanning in a perfume ad in which she posed with the bottle between her thighs. A line of “faux fur” jackets were found to actually be using the hair of raccoon dogs from China in 2013. BuzzFeed praised his Spring 2016 line for using a diverse group of models … even though one of them was an Asian woman wearing dreadlocks.

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This season’s ad campaign represents a series of connected events; a visual narrative. It is a personal diary of people who have and continue to inspire me and open my mind to different ways of seeing and thinking. The spectrum of individuals photographed in our Spring/Summer 2016 ad campaign represent a celebration of my America. In collaboration with photographer David Sims and stylist Katie Grand, the people featured in our campaign personify this collection of fashion through their individuality. Collectively, they embody and celebrate the spirit and beauty of equality. It is with an overwhelmingly full heart that I share this first portrait of our Spring/Summer 2016 ad campaign. Lana Wachowski. I was first introduced to Lana via YouTube in December 2012. The speech Lana gave to accept the Human Rights Campaign, Visibility Award, (October 20, 2012) was utterly profound in its script and her articulate, brilliant and timeless delivery. She expressed thoughts and ideas that have filled my head and heart always but had never been so eloquently captured in language that was so tangible, intelligent, poignant and full of possibility. I found myself referencing Lana’s words in my daily life and sharing her speech with close friends. In the days before our Spring/Summer ‘16 fashion show and through a fateful series of communications, much to my incomprehensible delight, Lana accepted an invitation to our show in New York City and thus I took her, “fashion show virginity.” Lana’s ineffable beauty captured by David in this portrait reminds me of the personal sentiment she shared with me about, “learning you can make important friends at anytime in your life.”

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Some things never change.

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*First Published: Sep 16, 2016, 11:47 am CDT