Project Runway’s Southern belle vision of Africa

The 10th season of the American ‘Project Runway’ fashion show closed with its usual grand catwalk finale. Gunnar Deatherage, one of the budding candidates, said that for his collection he “was inspired by aborigines and exotic tribes”. There’s always one, isn’t there? But frankly, he doesn’t have the reference points to do ‘tribal’ even badly, especially when the tailoring is terrible and his understanding of how draping and fabric sit on a woman’s body is fundamentally in error (these are skinny women and they look all wide-hipped and chunky-waisted in the gathered skirts). The colour scheme is off. Do ‘tribals’ only wear earth tones mixed with dirty pink for some reason? Do paint splotched ‘aboriginal’ models always need to showcase a designer’s lacklustre tribal style over a soundtrack of loungy drums music?

Armani gives the same treatment to ‘Africa’ as does Michael Kors, with an over-abundance of dust on the colour scheme and plenty of geometric shapes on prints. But mostly, armani et al use solely white models, super-tanned with spray. The use of black models might give Deatherage some plus points, but when it’s used to reinforce a literally ugly stereotype, what’s the point? He may as well insert an Uncle Ben stirring rice and an Aunty Jemima serving breakfast, and have them saunter down the runway. This shouldn’t be the way beautiful black women get work — having to look like some Southern belle’s vision of Africa from yesteryear, one that said belles can visit for the fashion season, in order to get exoticism credentials.

One blogger’s advice to Deatherage: get yourself a passport and travel a bit first.

But I feel that might be exactly what he did: go on safari to Masaai Mara/Ngorongoro/(insert your fave), and cobble this thing together after taking some desperate notes back at the lodge, on the stylings of the ‘tribals’ hired to dance for visiting foreign bwanas.


4 thoughts on “Project Runway’s Southern belle vision of Africa

  1. Unfortunately this is the perception held by the majority of people in the West, and several designers have been guilty of ‘interpretting’ ‘tribal’ inspiration over the years, in spite of globalization and the availability of information at their fingertips. And travel! The fight to break these stereotypes must continue.

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