Carolina Herrera’s creative director refutes accusations of cultural appropriation
Jun 13, 2019
The creative director of Carolina Herrera, Wes Gordon, has insisted that the brand’s Resort 2020 collection pays homage to the “cultural wealth” of Mexico, after being accused by the Mexican government of cultural appropriation.
This was Gordon’s response to a letter sent by Mexico's culture secretary Alejandra Frausto to Carolina Herrera and Wes Gordon, where she requested “an explanation for the use of designs and embroidery belonging to native peoples”.
In a statement released on Wednesday he said that the collection “pays tribute to the richness of Mexican culture" and celebrates “the wonderful and diverse craft and textile work of Mexican artisans”. The collection is inspired by the country’s colours and artisanal techniques.
He added that the collection has “an undeniable Mexican presence”. “It’s something that jumps out at you and I always intended it to be something latent as a way of showing my love for this country and for all the incredible work I’ve seen there,” Wes Gordon explained.
A further proof of his deep respect for Mexico, the designer said he wanted to highlight various techniques and traditional elements of Mexican heritage.
“My admiration for the artisanal work has only grown as I have travelled to Mexico over the years. With this new collection, I have tried to highlight the importance of this magnificent cultural heritage.”
The Carolina Herrera brand is proud of its Latin American roots, as its founder was born in Venezuela and is considered “one of the main advocates of the Latin American spirit around the world.”
“One of the first things that caught my attention when I joined this brand was the incredible respect for artisan techniques, to the point of having an artisan workshop in the middle of Manhattan,” said Wes Gordon. “Since I arrived I felt the need to honor the different artisanal techniques that still exist in the world.”
In a letter sent by the Mexico's culture secretary to the designer, she defended the “cultural rights of indigenous peoples” and requested him to justify the use of “cultural elements whose origins are fully documented”.
“Carolina Herrera’s Resort 2020 collection takes on the playful and colourful mood of a Latin holiday, from a sunrise in Tulum, the waves in José Ignacio and dancing in Buenos Aires to the colors of Cartagena,” said a press release of the brand owned by Puig Group.
But the Mexican government seems to reject the inspiration, because it considers that the Carolina Herrera collection misappropriated the cultural heritage of Mexico and its indigenous peoples. And it is working on legislation to protect their art and creativity to prevent cultural appropriation.
One of the designs involved in the dispute is a long white dress with animal and floral embroidery, which Frausto said come from the community of Tenango de Doria in Hidalgo. “In these embroideries is the history of the community itself, and each element has a personal, family and community meaning,” she said in her letter.
There are also short dresses with colorful floral embroideries like those made in the of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca.
And the third offender is a dress that is based on a typical sarape from Saltillo, Coahuila, which are used by indigenous people to make outerwear such as ‘ponchos’, ‘jorongos’, ‘gabanes’ and other blanket-like shawls.
“It is a principle of ethical consideration that forces us to draw attention to an issue that can’t be ignored any longer: we must promote inclusion and make those who are invisible visible,” the letter said.
After 37 years in the fashion world and 72 runway shows, Venezuela’s Carolina Herrera left the helm of the brand she created in 1981 two years ago, and Wes Gordon took over. He was in charge of creating this Resort 2020 collection which has come under fire with the Mexican government.
But Carolina Herrera’s range is not the first to be criticised for cultural appropriation by the Mexican government. Zara, Mango, Isabel Marant, Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors, Santa Marguerite and Etoile have all faced warnings from Mexico in the past. The country has been working on a new law that protects indigenous culture since November.
Taking cues from different cultures has been part of the fashion industry for many years. A case in point are designers like Moschino, Gaultier o Lacroix, which created collections inspired by the aesthetics of bullfighting. But what was once called inspiration is now considered cultural appropriation and designers are quickly learning its consequences.
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