May 10, 2019

Dior and their new 'African inspired' collection

"Cross-culturalism has been a recurring motif in the work of Chiuri, whose pan-African collection for Valentino for spring/summer 2016 strove to build bridges between Europeans and African refugees following the migrant crisis at the time. “We think every person coming here is an individual, and we can show that we can improve ourselves by understanding other cultures,” 
she said, in 2015. The show, however, met with criticism for its lack of diversity on the runway, arguments fuelled by the cultural appropriation debates that peaked on social media that year. 
But the collection would become a learning curve for both Chiuri and her co-creative director at Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli." 1)

"Dior launches radical collection promoting local African print"
Dior’s new global outlook has certainly been met with criticism along the lines of cultural appropriation, especially as the designs were worn by non-African models. On Instagram, the luxury label shared videos of local artisans making the fabrics, but some questioned the notion of a French label profiting from the craft of another, previously colonial, culture.
However valid the criticism, we approve of any brand promoting transparency in the sourcing and manufacturing of their materials. Moreover, Anne Grosfilley {researcher} maintains, “This collection is not about an idea of an ‘African look’. It’s a celebration of African savoir-faire, and it will be a part of a real African economy.” 2)

"Dior and the Line Between Cultural Appreciation and Cultural Appropriation
The French brand holds the first cruise extravaganza in Africa, 
and tries to start a new kind of conversation." 3)

"Wax started in Europe and moved through Asia, then back to Africa. It’s a technique that really went around the world,” Chiuri explained, of the material’s roots. “The collection speaks a lot about craftsmanship travelling around the world. In this moment, there’s a lot of attention to cultural appropriation, but I think we have to explain how craftsmanship travels around the world; why it’s often so difficult to find the ‘real’ reference.”
“A global brand like Dior, which has such an important history, has to move into the future through different points of view and different visions,” she said. “This is a collection but it’s also a conversation with artists about the representation of women, what it means to work in fashion today, and what cultural appropriation means today. It’s an intellectual reflection on fashion today.” 1)

If you read the articles online and hear Dior's designer Maria Grazia Chiuri explain it in the short video on Facebook, you honestly can't find any harm is this lady trying to re-invent fashion by embracing a more inclusive way of making it and collaborating with all sorts of artisans. But if we zoom in on what she chooses to embrace or use, questions starting to build up and I can't help but wonder what exactly is going on in this new Dior collection.
If Dior truly wanted to promote “African culture” and craftsmanship, there were plenty of textiles to choose from. Promoting actual local made textiles, not ‘green washing’ or ‘white washing’ textiles... or in Dior case, how should we call this? 'Africanity washing’, ‘appropriate washing’, ‘history washing’? I mean, why 'Wax Print'?
Dior wants to use their history and does that by basing their Wax Print on their Toile de Jouy design... I mean a motif based on a block-print design with exotic animals in a jungle setting, really? Are we just going to jump over the history of cotton and cotton-printing?
Creating your own textiles is great, and making a wax print, how cool. But this specific textile has such a complex history, which we are only just unravelling.
The researcher and auteur of Wax & Co/ African Wax Print Textiles Anne Grosfilley Dior invited to learn about Wax Print embraces it as a ‘global textile’.
Yes, this is great & true, but it is also, or even more so intertwined with colonial history.
It could be seen as a ‘colonial cloth’. So who are the French, in this case the fashion-brand Dior, to embrace this cloth as a ‘global textile’ and feel free to use it? Shouldn’t the fact that it is a ‘colonial cloth’ maybe weigh heavier in making the choice in who embraces it & why & how?
{Haven't read het book yet, it just got published in English, please comment below if you have and share your thoughts on it}

While reading up on articles published after the grand show in Marrakech Dior made to launch their new Summer collection 2020, I started following the comments on Twitter. The one showing the same video as what I first spotted on Facebook is getting mild comments, where the one with some tailor pictures is being flooded with remarks: "Get to discover more about one of the key through lines of the #DiorCruise 2020 collection: Wax print fabrics, the prestige cloth used for the collection!". The comments mostly go on about how they used 'African print', steal from Africa, and asking what Dior means with the term 'wax print'. People from Southeast Asia mostly comment 'This is Batik'.
What is going on here?
The name 'African Print' is maybe used widely, but Doir isn't incorrect in naming it 'Wax Print'. {They made this 'Wax Print' in collaboration with Uniwax, based in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), part of Vlisco based in Helmond (the Netherlands)}
Wax Print is the name for this technique and therefor these textiles are called 'Wax Print'. It' refers to machine printing of 'wax', which in this case is actually a kind of resin, onto cotton. 'Wax Print' started their history 200 years ago as an imitation batik. They had many names and different techniques that were used before the actual machines were invented by the Dutch. But they all had something in common, they were all made to ship to the former Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, to compete with actual Batik.
Batik is still being made! And not by machine but by hand! ,
Either with canting ''Batik Tulis, or with cap, Batik Cap. Batik has been the intangible heritage of Indonesia since 2009, but is still under pressure as a craft. The market is filled with printed textiles, cheap imitations and Batikmakers have a hard time getting a fair price for their products, more on that further on in this post.

My concern about all of this is not on who can use what and why, I think it has more to do with why Dior made this collection. What is their idea behind it?
is it because it is just fashionable now?
Or do they want to be part of the “cultural appropriation” discussion and truly in a positive way?
Do they want to make their product more inclusive or is it just copying of popular fashion of the African continent? 
Non of these things get really answered. The framing is vague and has all the right lingo. Yet the word 'Colonialism' is left out completely.
When using products that are linked to, intertwined with, miss-placed by 'Colonialism' or being re-examinded or being re-discovered by diaspora, people really should take a moment, maybe even more then a moment. Maybe it is just not the place nor the time to "do something with it" just yet, maybe other things need to happen first before you can use it as freely as you like.
Using Wax Print is one thing and many European brand already made that mistake/choice. Designing your own Wax Print is really something else and don't get me started on those "glass beads that originated in Venice"...

Why Wax Print is so complex, is being shown greatly and in depth in the 'Wax Print Film’. I recently had the opportunity of finally seeing it myself. Director Aiwan Obinyan was in the Netherlands shortly for another screening and I managed to set one up with the Guave ladies at their studio, our first collaboration, many to come, one soon {read at the end of this post}. In the 'Wax Print Film' Aiwan starts a quest finding out what 'African print' actually is. It led her to an amazing journey, over the world and far into history. 
I still feel so honoured being part of her journey and I think her journey about Wax Print is not finished yet. She has a lot of footage and if I see what is happening now, I think people should offer her a stage and make that stuff into a TV series! It would be so good to explore this in even more depth with even more voices!

Think before you act
Everyone knows it, no one uses it?!

This morning my day started with reading news from Malaysia.* The article 'Join the ‘Wear Malaysian batik’ revolution' not only lightens up the fire of the who has the claim to the heritage of {In 2009 Unesco declared Batik officially the intangible heritage of Indonesia, after Malaysia and Indonesia both wanted it as a national heritage}, but the minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture also states that they are going to promote Batik by encouraging young people to wear printed textiles, what? Wait? How?

"Although machine-printed batik might not be considered actual batik, which is handpainted, it is a start to reach out to the younger generation because it is cheaper and more accessible"

Promoting Printed Textiles can never result in promoting Batik. To promote Batik you should promote handmade Batik. It is that simple. If you promote printed textiles you just promote Fast Fashion! And therefor create an even more difficult position for the makers of the actual textiles... They already have to compete with these printed textiles, why make it even more difficult by promoting these textiles! Please don’t confuse a heritage with Fast Fashion! Promote Batik by actually wearing Batik. Invest in a new generation of Batik by wearing Actual Batik & making it possible for a new generation of Batikmakers to continue their legacy!

During the 61th Tong Tong Fair me together with Guave will be hosting 'The Batik Stand, A Stand For Batik'. From 23 May till 2 June you can find us on the Grand Pasar for everything about, on and with Batik. Come stand with us for Batik!

1) 'SPRING/SUMMER 2020 RESORT Christian Dior' on
2) 'Dior launches radical collection promoting local African print' on
3) 'Dior and the Line Between Cultural Appreciation and Cultural Appropriation' on

To read more on Wax Print:

* I wrote this Monday, but had no time to finetune until now. Meanwhile I had a discussion on the 'Batik print' promotion, were I was called a 'gatekeeper' and that this was the future...Even the claim was made that keeping the technique of Batik alive was not necessary and not sustainable...This breaks my heart & I want to say to all hard working Batikmakers (and all others that keep textile traditions alive) keep up the great work! Batik will never be replaced by some printed substitute, it didn't work in the 19th century, why would we let it happen now!
** I haven't shared images of the Dior collection, because I don't want to support their possible campaign strategy of getting free press through negative press

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