Last week Rihanna released a shoot series with Harper's Bazaar China where she was styled in traditional Chinese wear with a modern twist to match her iconic persona. While the shoot was met with much deserved praise, I came across some arguments that called her out on cultural appropriation (tuh). In our current social climate, there are so many conversations about what the guidelines to approaching and respecting a culture are, and I believe there's an avenue to discuss what those might be through examining Steve Lacey's shirt.
I am obsessed with Steve Lacey's shirt.
This shirt, designed by FENTY, is an oversized printed t-shirt featuring a personal, stylistic depiction of a traditional Chinese dragon priced at $240. "[The] Chinese dragons have many animal-like forms such as turtles and fish, but are most commonly depicted as snake-like with four legs. They traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, typhoons, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it in East Asian culture. During the days of Imperial China, the Emperor of China usually used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial strength and power." (Ingersoll). The carefully hand-stitched embroidery with its accompanying background clouds, pitched against a matte-black, smooth, cotton finish does this traditional image its utmost justice. On the back there's an ironic phrase in gothic print: "No More Music". On the tails of this past shoot with Harper's Bazaar, it struck me that I might appreciate how Rihanna pays homage to a culture, how she shows her respect to it, how she shows that the beauty she sees in a culture inspires her. This is apart of why I'm obsessed with Steve Lacey's shirt.
There is a caustic difference between appreciating a culture, respecting it, paying homage to it; and depreciating a culture, fetishizing and appropriating it. To appropriate is to take something for one's own use, usually without the owner's permission. That is to say, Kim Kardashian's trademarking of the word "kimono" to describe body-wear that pays zero homage to what a kimono actually is, or the printing of Hamsa's all over H&M and Hollister bags that are bought by communities that would see Muslims as terrorists and Jesus as white. That's not to say that people from those communities couldn't purchase something from FENTY, but the difference lies in Rihanna's outspoken nature toward respect and celebration of the cultures she's invited to see.
Rihanna acts with propriety when approaching other cultures. She has always lent her likeness and her image to brands and companies so that they may profit together. In her Harper's Bazaar shoot, she was styled by Chinese stylists (@mumoodsight), shot by Chinese photographers (@chenman), edited by Chinese editors (@shasimona, @weitan25), and consumed by international audiences. Her plate is overflowing and everyone eats. By lending herself to a culture, she permits herself to celebrating it, which is elegantly displayed in this design. This design that with its image proposes the question of what beautiful things she must have seen, what poignant knowledge she might've shared in the journey toward creating this piece.
I am obsessed with Steve Lacey's shirt.
I am obsessed with the essence provided in her sharing these aspects of her creativity. "No More Music" she says, even as we know she's on the curtails of release, while creating clothing, and make-up, and skincare as she advocates for immigrants and works to share her message with the world. The irony lies in the fact that she is beyond only music; now she is a mogul, an entrepreneur, a larger-than-life madonna. This shirt holds such poignancy, such flavor and flair because her image is impressed upon it, her image makes me hope to hold $300 for something she's thought up, so that I might touch even a sliver of the power of an emperor.
I am obsessed with Steve Lacey's shirt. You should be too. https://www.fenty.com/us/en/products/shirts-dresses-oversized-printed-t-shirt-dragonno-more-music-super-black-m/100928.html