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We Need To Talk About The Dreadlocks At Marc Jacobs

Fashion is no stranger to controversy. In just the last year or so, we've watched as models hit the Givenchy AW15 catwalk with hairstyles described as "Chola Victorian;" as Dolce & Gabbana came under fire for selling the "slave sandal;" as Valentino showed an Africa-inspired collection for SS16 that featured predominantly white models in cornrows. Now, Marc Jacobs is the latest designer to find himself in hot water.

As a beauty editor, I look forward to going backstage at Marc Jacobs every season. It's one of only a few shows I get excited for, not just because you can always count on a buzzy look (even when the look is no look), but a thoughtful story behind it, as well. It's never just "Marc was into red lipstick for spring."

So when I entered the warehouse packed with hairstylists and makeup artists this morning and immediately spotted a model (white) with a head piled high with pounds of pastel dreadlocks, I thought I ought to withhold judgment — surely this was meant to be a statement on the current political waters.

Recorders on, the large group of editors gathered around artistic hairstylist Guido and Jena, the Florida woman (white) who had hand-dyed the 12,500 pieces of wool locs being woven into the models' hair, to get the scoop. "Marc was really inspired by Lana Wachowski," said Guido. "That was the starting point, then we looked at movements like rave culture, acid house and club culture, travellers, Boy George and Marilyn." A few minutes later, more inspiration emerged: '80s London, anime, Harajuku girls.

To state the obvious: None of those people or things are Black, and not a single Black woman or movement connected to Black culture was cited as inspiration. Now, we understand the references to queer culture and the party scene, and we don't doubt that this was where the creative teams were pulling from. And it's okay that they did. But any time one borrows from a culture, the history of that culture must be acknowledged. The Marc Jacobs hair borrowed from The Club Kids, who borrowed from Black culture. The issue is that no one said so.
The other issue is that we have a long history of shaming Black men and women for their locs: from the military, which has restrictions on how those serving must wear their "entwined" hairstyles, to the media. Who can forget Giuliana Rancic commenting that Zendaya's made her look like she smokes weed and smells like patchouli?

By and large, we as a society have stereotyped dreadlocks as being dirty and unprofessional — unless they're worn by white women. Case in point: Backstage, Guido said, "Marc takes something that's so street and raw and when it all comes together with the makeup and everything, the thing becomes a total look. It becomes something we'd bypass on the street and not really look at... And he makes us look at it again in a much more sophisticated, fashionable way."

I'll admit, it's hard for me to call this case out. I'm a white woman, and for the most part, I feel like I don't belong in this conversation. I'm also a white woman who loves fashion and beauty, and who appreciates creatives, like Jacobs, who push the boundaries. "This is about style," said Guido, when I asked him one-on-one if he worried this would be interpreted as cultural appropriation. "We're doing a fashion show. Great style comes from taking from all over the place."

I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly, and I believe that telling an artist to play it safe, to not go there, to censor themselves, is a scary road to go down. But more than that, I believe in credit where credit is due — something this look was seriously lacking.