Cultural Appropriate or Appropriation? Fair Trade Facts

In my last post I looked at a comparison of one of TOM FORD’S Spring 2012 designs (picture right) and a traditional Romanian ‘ie’ (below). An ‘ie’ is known in the “west” as a “peasant blouse” but traditionally in Romania – The ie has been carefully hand crafted and it’s patterns preserved from generation to generation – each pattern and color unique to specific regions.

The design TOM FORD used as “inspiration” is from a region of Romania called Sibiu. As written here and here

“Embroidery on folk costumes worn for holidays and special occasions (like weddings) follows strict regional patterns and serves also as a sort of secret language known only to people within the different regions.  Sibiu uses graphic black and white motifs, reflecting its Saxon heritage; southern regions of Arges, Muscel, Dimbovita and Prahova use red, black maroon, yellow, gold, and silver threads, reflecting influences of the Ottoman Empire.  Buzau uses terra cotta; Oas uses green and Moldavia uses orange and the Voronet blue made world-famous by its use on the monastery of the same name. Especially beautiful is cut embroidery on white or ecru linen and cotton, done throughout the country.”

You might be asking, so what TOM FORD was inspired by this Romanian design – cultural appropriation doesn’t automatically mean misappropriation does it? This article discusses the difference between the two. The author states: 

Cultural appropriation happens every day, especially in the world of fashion. It’s the loose idea of borrowing, sharing and being inspired by other cultures.


Cultural misappropriation is a land of darkness. It’s a place where one culture (most often one that has an historical record of oppressing other cultures) engages in the unauthorized taking of some aspects of another (most often a minority) culture.

She says the key element here is ‘power’ and ‘authority’ – while it’s ok to share and “borrow” – when it comes to Native American headdresses it is misappropriation when a person wears one that is not “authorized” to wear it. But in the realm of art and cultural capital there is value in the derivatives of cultural symbolism. For example – feather earrings – sure Native Americans maybe didn’t have feather earrings exactly like the trendy ones now but when educated people that know their history see those – they immediately “get” the esthetic sense of Native American peoples. Things carry historical resonance – that’s why pop art often works because it draws from the historical meaning of things to comment on society.

But doesn’t the paragraph above about the intricacy and meaning of embroidery on the ‘ie’ show that it is embedded with cultural capital and holds meaning reserved for only “authorized” people and “situations”  – in other words – who decides the authority?;sz=320×320;ord=timestamp?;lid=41000000029272154;pid=600474169;usg=AFHzDLvsjm6RdN97zADNsfCdxqxaWdOrSA;–f–us–443–600474169%2526sourcecode%253Daffiliate%2526pid%253D6673073%2526utm_cp_signal%253D18-75;pubid=557510;;width=320;height=320;sz=320×320;ord=timestamp?;lid=41000000029272154;pid=608973525;usg=AFHzDLsMyOl-4drgO6MwH9lb7R5ciP6cPg;–f–us–523–608973525%2526sourcecode%253Daffiliate%2526pid%253D6673073%2526utm_cp_signal%253D18;pubid=557510;;width=320;height=320;sz=320×320;ord=timestamp?;lid=41000000029272154;pid=60805209;usg=AFHzDLvS3CdSAOPXx0xnQNr9CtIoyEvkaw;–f–us–100–60805209%2526sourcecode%253Daffiliate%2526pid%253D6673073%2526utm_cp_signal%253D18;pubid=557510;;width=320;height=320;sz=400×400;ord=timestamp?;lid=41000000028007181;pid=RSRGP5507;usg=AFHzDLtV7z7lk5v5r2f6wMXZMl-WQMdeAQ;;pubid=557510;;width=400;height=374;sz=320×320;ord=timestamp?;lid=41000000028505128;pid=FV1889;usg=AFHzDLvXJjrHTStekv3Jr42G0SgE2Oogqw;;pubid=557510;;width=320;height=320;sz=320×320;ord=timestamp?;lid=41000000028505128;pid=LWB1175;usg=AFHzDLsphD-XkIy0x1GD6ZCRHVZfMgjYQA;;pubid=557510;;width=320;height=320;sz=320×320;ord=timestamp?;lid=41000000036779680;pid=2000046772_small_CREAM%252FBLACK;usg=AFHzDLveUziOEOKqCaO2GkBEzrl7KY1iMg;;pubid=557510;;width=262;height=320;sz=320×320;ord=timestamp?;lid=41000000036779680;pid=1000027910_ONE%2BSIZE_MULTI%252FBURN.G.;usg=AFHzDLschIcuD4PIx-gCtXRKWDfPklaiDQ;;pubid=557510;;width=261;height=320


One thought on “Cultural Appropriate or Appropriation? Fair Trade Facts

  1. The article merits to be posted not only on the La Blousr Roumaine Facebook page but also on the Tom Ford FB page. Information is powerful and bringing cultural awareness to our cultural trademarks is equally important. Thanks for this well written piece of “investigative journalism.” Well Done and thank you.


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