Long story about how to correctly interact with other cultures, so as not to offend anyone and steal anything 🙂

Have you ever thought about how much the influence of other cultures in our daily life? We go to a cafe of French and Italian cuisine to enjoy unusual dishes, use Asian cosmetics, we also listen to rappers and learn to twerk (if you know what I mean). It would seem that this could be bad? Borrowing and even imitation is a common thing, especially when we position ourselves as people of the world and do not bother too much about national identity. 

But lately, accusations of cultural appropriation are becoming more frequent in headlines – and spears fly not only to famous designers, but also models, editors, and even numerous performers (here and Beyonce and Justin Bieber lit up so hello to them). I decided to raise the difficult topic of borrowing cultural codes. We will try to figure out what does cultural cooperation differ from cultural capture, or, in simple words, what is the difference between cultural exchange and theft?

Wtf happens?

There are many situations when someone (a person or a brand) was accused of disrespecting the heritage of another nation and cultural appropriation. Let’s analyze a couple of the loudest examples, so that you can understand more precisely what this is about.


It contained many national prints, necklaces of fangs and feathers. But the models of African descent in the show did not get ten. It turns out that the fashion house has provided a visual concept with more meaning than its content. The designer set himself the task of conveying the spirit of Africa, but did not show the most important thing – the carriers of this culture. Of course, this caused questions.


In 2017, the girl posted a video in which she parodyed the expression on the face of the Buddha, squinting her eyes. For a joke, the charges of racism on the part of Asians descended upon her. A little later, she appeared on the cover of Italian Vogue – and for some reason turned out to be too tanned. The bottom line is that excessive use of Photoshop has turned the light-skinned girl by nature into a representative of another race. And, of course, she, the photographer, and the entire publication were instantly accused of a blackface (reception, when a suit or makeup “turns” you into a person of another race).

It turns out that neither you can wear feathers on the Coachella festival, nor can you depict an African-American using make-up, because this way we adopt the cultural codes of another people and thoughtlessly embody them without taking into account the events and the context with which these things are connected.


Alessandro Michele repeated the legendary Harlem jacket of designer Daniel Dapper Dan Day and dedicated a collection of counterfeit fashion. The fact is that the history of the underground fashion is an echo of a purely black culture. Back in the 70s, Dan wanted to make a fashion store in Harlem, but famous brands refused to sell him things. Since the dark-skinned people were a marginalized group, there was no talk of any kind of luxury, at that time only gangsters had money.

The inaccessibility of brands has further increased the desire to possess (where do you think all the gold lyrics are in the tracks of popular rappers?). Therefore, in the 80s, Dan became a kind of fashion bootlegger and first turned fake things into art. Dan began to sew clothing and accessories with the logos of Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Bally, thinking through and complementing each print. His clients became rich bandits, rappers and their girlfriends. And sometimes clothes were even borrowed. 

We can say that Dey managed to turn the inaccessible “white suite” into a “black suite”, changing its context. And Alessandro Michele, on whom the whole fashion world is now praying, simply stole his idea. Although initially fashionable thief would be considered Dan. Not bad, huh? In any case, the Harlem mod was able to get ahead of time, and Gucci only followed him. The story ended well: thanks to the hype and joint efforts of the studio Dapper Dan rediscovered.

Of course, in America, most of the critical moments are “tied” to the theme of racism towards the black people and the genocide of the Indians. And yes, these topics are quite difficult to understand for a person living in such a multi-ethnic country as Russia. But we are here and gathered to understand the intricacies of the fashion industry.

What is “cultural appropriation”

I think on this part you are completely confused, and the phrase “cultural appropriation” makes you goosebumps. But now we get to the definition, and everything will be easier.

So, cultural appropriation is the appropriation by one culture of the values ​​of another culture (including moral norms, ideas about beauty, rituals, spiritual practices, and also works of art) with distortion of their meaning. Often this happens in a relationship of dominant and oppressed cultures. Although specifically at this point of view among researchers there are different.

American researcher George Reis believes that cultural appropriation is the privilege of whites, a kind of unconscious form of oppression that creates inequality among people of different races, religions and cultures. I will give a simple example. A person of a different race, who wears ethnic clothes, walks with dreadlocks and in every possible way manifests his identity in the “civilized world of business suits” will, in one way or another, be discriminated.

He will not be understood, unlike the white one, who decides to make a “fashionable and unusual hairstyle”. It turns out that white people unconsciously impose their culture as the only correct one, but at the same time borrow elements of other cultures. Therefore, the issue of cultural appropriation is acute and important. After all, a real exchange of ideas can occur only by mutual agreement.

Cultural capture does not necessarily look like a frank ridicule of a certain people. And it is precisely fashion, in its broad meaning, that pushes people on borrowing, when a certain phenomenon becomes mainstream. For example, bindi (a colored dot that Indian women draw in the center of the forehead) is often used as an element of the festival make-up. But for the representatives of the people themselves, this is a sign of family prosperity and a reminder that the sanctity of marriage must be observed.

The appropriation also lies in the borrowing of cultural codes from marginalized social groups. This is most noticeable in the works of Kanye West (as a designer, of course). Infinite torn things are not in size, dusty, faded colors, and in general the whole trend towards the aesthetics of poverty (things themselves cost hundreds of thousands), promoted by a millionaire, looks like a big mockery. By the way, it is for this reason that the older generation does not approve of the style of the current highbialists. After all, what seems fashionable and cool to you, for your family – echoes of the poor past of the 90s and the complete lack of choice.

Offense time

But the problem is not only that someone “takes someone else’s without asking.” Here is what our expert, a teacher at the School of Hulturgy School of HSE Artem Rondarev, says: “The current wave of protests against the“ appropriation ”of something by white people is one-sided and leads to all sorts of excesses, including racial discrimination. This topic will be insoluble for a long time, although its solution is obvious: everyone should just calm down and stop considering the use of elements of foreign cultures as oppression, and see in this a manifestation of interest in their culture. But with the current social sensitivity of groups that feel marginalized, this is impossible. ” 

Russia and “your way”

The previous examples are exclusively Western, which are far from us. But cultural appropriation in Russia also takes place, albeit not to the extent that it does in the West.

What comes first to mind when we talk about homeland? What is a country that has its own way, a unique history and a multi-ethnic population. Our culture can be called exotic, as we “cook in our pot.” We have nowhere to borrow culture and no one to steal cultural codes, because, say, both the Yakuts, the Karelians, and the Kazakhs are part of the Russian people. This is our difference from the West. 

She got a lot of Prada, that Dolce and Gabbana I can’t forget Escada, and that Balenciaga 
(c) Track A $ AP Rocky – Fashion Killa

As a good and illustrative example, we can highlight the fashion house Aishat Kadyrova. The girl produces clothes inspired by national Chechen motifs, which is good. Although already clients of the brand show the other side of the coin. Wearing a dress in the floor, handkerchief or burqa for a girl who is far from Islam is probably strange. This is precisely the notorious cultural appropriation, because the veil is not a costume.

The model Anastasia Reshetova somehow got into this trap, having indulged in a selfie in a traditional dress that was next to a photo in a bathing suit. We can also recall the works of designers from Eastern Europe, beloved by all Gosha Rubchinsky and Demna Gvasaliya, who in their work play in one way or another on the theme of the USSR. And yes, both designers have an idea of ​​what the Soviet Union is, but:

  • they are not communists
  • far from all those who buy a sweatshirt for 50 thousand rubles associate themselves with our history, our pain, repression, wars and all that our country is so rich with (besides literature and ballet). 

According to Artem Rondarev, even when a Russian guy reads rap – this can also be called appropriation. Because, at a minimum, themes that are not correlated with the everyday experience of a Russian person, like living in a ghetto or gang wars, are also borrowed along with the form of the statement. Obviously, the “exoticization” of these themes is present here, and this is the first sign of cultural appropriation.

It turns out that large fashion houses for the most part only earn money on a relevant topic, but do not seek to fill their activities with meaning, to help restore justice or to have a positive impact on a particular group.

Are there any advantages in cultural appropriation?

As with any phenomenon, appropriation has another side. James Young, in the book “Cultural appropriation and art,” notes that the appropriation of culture by art opens the door to insiders. In the long run, the effect of borrowing may turn out to be positive, because thanks to the same Rubchinsky the world has learned that there are such wonderful people and it can be interesting to watch us too. Thus, “the world is cured of stereotypes.”

Our expert Artyom Rondarev expresses a similar opinion: “There are certainly pluses, because without appropriation it is impossible to imagine the globalization of culture (the process of developing and bringing together national cultures based on universal human values), without it there would not be a huge number of works of art of Western culture and even whole styles.

All romanticism is based on some appropriation of Eastern themes and markers.

In the current globalized system of world order, there is no need to get rid of appropriation. This is most often forgotten by opponents of the appropriation: if it is banned, then everyone will disperse to their local cultures and the war of all against all will begin, because the cultural reasons for war are among the most obvious. When we accept our culture as the highest (and this is inevitable when isolating cultures), we thus fully justify aggression against foreign cultures. In this scheme, appropriation is the least evil, if evil at all. ”

Who is to blame and what to do?

Being interested in other cultures and looking for inspiration around is a natural process. But the value of any creativity lies in the skillful transformation and talented interpretation of other people’s ideas. It turns out that it is not so easy to find the signs of an oppressor in oneself and eradicate them (and, believe me, each of us has them, each one is “pricking” in something of his own).

But today we are talking specifically about cultural capture, so my duty is to advise you the series “Dear, white”. It has a very clear theme of racism on both sides. And the point, of course, is not that we all seek to infringe on anyone, but that many of us simply cannot understand what the problem is and why everyone is offended. But if we do not understand something, this does not remove responsibility from us.

It is very important, when confronted with a different culture, to look beyond stereotypes and superficial perceptions because this is where respect is manifested.

There is one more reason why modelers lose in terms of tolerance and acceptance. They, like many other people, do not have time to adapt to the changing norms of modern times and often fall into the trap of time. Let me remind you that for this reason, H & M has introduced a vacancy for the diversity-manager, who is just taking care not to affect anyone’s feelings.

Unfortunately, the industry is developing too fast, and the consumer constantly demands something new and fresh, putting art on the conveyor. And when something is done quickly, the content part bears the first loss. To restore the dialogue and avoid blind discrimination, it takes time, awareness, reflection and deep analysis. And in order to form a positive cultural borrowing, you need respect, permission for appropriation from group members and transparent communication.


There is only one way out – to work on the principle of publicity, publicity and openness towards the audience (just like a court!). The easiest way is to use models of different races and nationalities in shows to give a direct reference to the original culture. A good (but imperfect) interaction example was shown by the Dior brand. In an advertising campaign for the 2019 cruise collection, he used the image of escaramuzas – “a strong Mexican rider” played by Jennifer Lawrence.

Network users were indignant why the white model played a major role in the advertising campaign dedicated to Mexican culture. As a result, the fashion house Dior published an explanation in which he said that they worked with eight Mexican women-photographers to publish their pictures in their corporate magazine. It turns out that if the brand announced in advance a large project dedicated to Mexico and its residents, the situation would be completely different.

In general, the only correct conclusion is that honesty, respect and the ability to conduct a dialogue, not dividing the world into our own and those of others, can save us from awkward mistakes and terrible accusations. And this concerns not only fashion, not only cultural appropriation but also life in general.