The reigning perception among people of color is that the fashion industry loves black culture, just not black people. It’s a harrowing thought and yet it rings true when designers embrace hairstyles made popular in the black community and style them on a cast of mostly white models. Such was the case in Valentino’s Pre-Fall 2016 collection. Models posed in sequin gowns and embellished leather jackets wearing bantu knots in their hair.The style originated in West Africa and it’s considered a go-to look in the black community, particularly among women with natural hair. Though fashion insiders often cite Björk as inspiration for bantu knots, referencing just one music video in 1993, celebrities like Jada Pinkett-Smith, Mel B., Kimberly Elise, Left Eye, Rihanna and Lauryn Hill have all worn the style everywhere from the red carpet to magazine shoots. Vogue cites the Björk video in a recent review of the collection and though they breezily mention a nod “to Africa,” they go so far as to call the style “Björk buns” and “punkish knots.” In neglecting to acknowledge the bantu knot’s origin, history or even the black celebrities that wear it prominently, the coverage surrounding Valentino’s recent stunt feels like yet another episode of cultural erasure.
— Vogue Runway (@VogueRunway) January 13, 2016
Furthermore, it adds insult to injury when the models wearing the style are overwhelmingly white. It sends a message that African hairstyles are more acceptable on white bodies. This kind of cultural erasure is becoming de rigueur for the fashion community. In October, Valentino sent majority-white models down the runway wearing cornrows and “tribal-inspired” gowns as the theme song to Out of Africa blasted in the background.
The fashion house has clearly taken a liking to African hairstyles. People of African descent? Not so much.