Nathaniel Dafydd Beard
Dynamic Circulations, Identity, and the Contemporary ‘Exotic’
Nathaniel Dafydd Beard
Royal College of Art, UK
Fashion designers have long been recognised as ‘‘magpies,’’ deriving inspiration for their designs from a variety of sources and cultures, and especially the ‘‘exotic other.’’ Yet, often this indiscriminate approach, for example mixing and matching Indonesian batik with Russian embroidery and Kenyan colours, can often appear inconsiderate of the traditions and rituals from which they originally derive. This fluidity is celebrated, however, on the pages of glossy fashion magazines, taken to indicate the creative dynamic of the fashion industry and the ‘‘genius’’ of its designers. Indigenous communities are, however, seeking to reclaim their ‘‘style’’ as their own, as in the recent case of the Maasai in Kenya asserting their rights over their intellectual property (IP) as a globally recognisable group (Hebblethwaite 2013).
Yet, and particularly since the 1970s onwards, new fashion design voices have become increasingly heard, with designers from various ‘‘diasporas’’ from non-Western cultures setting up home and businesses in the Fashion Cities of Europe and North America. Names as diverse, and from various time periods, as Hanae Mori, Kenzo, Cathy Hardwick, Yuki, Koshino Michiko, Monica Chong, Xuly Bët, Vivienne Tam, Duro Olowu, and Omar Munie, have all played a role in re-interpreting European or Western fashion styles and selling them back to an appreciative, and often Western, audience. Can such designers and their collections then be considered Western or Non-Western? What does the position and role of such individuals have to teach us about the dynamics of an ever more globalized fashion industry?
This paper considers the idea of circulation and the ‘‘exotic’’ within the contemporary fashion industry and its increasing, often reluctant, opening-up to a shift in the development of new, non-Western fashion markets. While firms such as the Dutch brand Vlisco have long been aware of the potentiality of such markets (Aarts 2012), others are only now learning a new trope to engage them. Perhaps designers such as Omar Munie indicate how this may be achieved, of Somali origin, based in The Hague, yet well versed in a globalized affinity with style, luxury and taste.