The exchange of culture between
societies is essential for the growth of a civilization,
it is essentially the way countries might learn from one another or share
goods, which is what sparked an exchange of
food and other products throughout Europe and other continents.
An example of culture
exchange in history is when “Columbus returned from Spain in 1493, bringing
things never seen in Europe, such as pigs, horses, vegetable seeds, wheat
chickpeas and fruit trees. This event triggered the trade between different
continents, which allowed exotic foods and other goods to be imported.”
exchange is beneficial for a civilization not
only for the fact that new products and food are introduced but great knowledge
may be shared as well, history from other countries as well as a chance to
learn of new medicines and more advanced techniques to do things. Sharing these
things allow for faster growth of a country since it can quickly improve by
learning things already discovered from other places making it so that all of
humanity can evolve faster and improve together.
Another great historical example of
cultural exchange is the spread of Christianity, which is now the largest
religion in the world; with an estimate of over 2.2 billion adherents.
Christianity has become so large mostly because of the Roman empire who
embraced it as the major religion of the Roman empire in the beginning of the 4th
Often cross-cultural exchange affects
the fashion world with some brands taking inspiration from other cultures. The
influence can be subtle, sometimes quite unnoticeable for example a designer
might be inspired to use a certain colour that is often common within another
culture and sometimes the influence from another culture is very evident in
some designers work, they may include fabrics that are only used in another
country or patterns that are symbolic to
a specific culture, making it more evident from where the inspiration for the
design came from.
From the exchange of foods to
traditions and religion it is safe to say that cross-cultural
exchange played a major role in the making of the modern world as we know it
Japan first opened their gates to
foreign trade in 1853 after 200 years of Japan being self-imposed secluded. The
western world was intrigued which began a major demand for imported Japanese
goods such as lacquer ware, fabrics,
paintings and metalwork. collectors
showing great delight for the astounding craftsmanship, design and techniques.
In the 19th century, some artists were inspired to copy the
style of Japanese work, even famous painter Vincent van Gogh did some Japanese
It took western fashion designers
about 40 years to start to develop interest in some eastern themes “Jeanne
Paquin, Paul Poiret, Charles Worth, the Callot Sisters, and Mariano Fortuny
adored the opulent fabrics and flowing lines of traditional
Eastern styling, and in 1910 created dresses in velvets and silks with heavy
One of the biggest difference between
traditional Japanese clothing and western fashion is that western designers
attempt to design clothes that enhance the female body, complimenting curves in
order to reveal or mould the woman into
concepts of desirable body shapes of one type or another. While Japanese
fashion is based more on the concept of a single piece of fabric constructed in
rectangles which do not waste fabric and
are not cut or shaped with darts. The main focus of the kimono lays with its
fabric and decoration rather than its shape.
Japan has influenced western fashion
due to cross-cultural exchange. Japanese fashion “described as “another planet”
by trend watcher, Ronny de Vylder, the Japanese believe in everything they do,
influencing the rest of the world with their ‘Wabi-Sabi’ view of ‘finding art
“Japan pioneered androgyny and
unevenness in the west introduced by
designers, Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake; this challenged the
ideas of the feminine silhouettes such as Dior’s “new look” in Paris during the
1980s/90s, as well as the glam, looks.”
“Yohji Yamamoto said he wanted ‘to
make men’s clothes for women’, Miyake famously made a collection from a single
piece of cloth, and Kawakubo introduced black, uneven female body shapes to
Famous European designers such as
Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen and
John Galliano were influenced by Kawakubo’s unconventional designs which remain
relevant to this day.
In 2015 western fashion was heavily
influenced by Japan, with many designers taking inspiration from colours and patterns that are common in
Japanese culture and fashion. A lot of floral patterns were visible as well as
pastel pinks and different shades of red, also many fabrics that seemed to be
inspired from fabrics traditionally used in Japan
with a silky appearance.
A great example of this is Alexander
McQueen who’s 2015 spring collection was heavily influenced by Japan. This collection was designed by Sarah
Burton who was inspired by Japanese culture and art when traveling there for
business, where she acquired a collection of kimonos and other artefacts. She stated that she was inspired by
the notion that clothes should have personal meaning for their owners. Her
mantra was “Make clothes so they mean something”
In the collection, itself many floral
patterns are visible which are very common factors in Japanese fashion. Some of
the designs are cut with a clear resemblance to a kimono. This collection
featured a lot of pastel shades of pink and red which contrasted well with the
classic dark theme that is typical in most Alexander McQueen collections.
Eventually, Japanese women reversed the trend and got
influenced by British fashion.
Many Japanese women cropped their hair and wore lipstick, some did this while
still wearing traditional kimono but some even started wearing western style dresses.
Japanese men quickly adapted to wear the western three-piece business suit.
Just like western fashion was
influenced by Japan, the same can be said about some Japanese styles influenced
by western culture.
For example, the Japanese streetwear style/subculture known as “Lolita”
is influenced by Victorian-era fashion.
Aspects of Lolita fashion inspired by Victorian era include the shape of the
dresses that are called ‘cupcake’ however this originates from crinoline skirts
from the Victorian era “If you look at the late 1850s and 1860s dresses you’ll
notice that the shape of the skirts with plenty of flounces and wide hemlines
is really similar to skirts Lolitas wear.”
The skirts worn by Lolitas are usually
shorter, however, the shape is somewhat the same.
Another aspect of Lolita fashion inspired
from the Victorian era are the shirts and collars which resemble the 1840s and early 1850s-day dresses. A simple
white blouse with sleeves tight at the cuff and the neckline decorated with
lace or flounces.
Other aspects of Lolita inspired from
the Victorian era include lace gloves and many classic and old school Lolitas
wear Victorian based headwear while
‘sweet Lolitas’ will often wear bows.
It is interesting to see the way that
different cultures can be influenced by each other creating styles that are a
combination of the two like we can see in the examples above with the way that
Sarah Burton incorporated Japanese styles within the Alexander McQueen brand
and the way that Victorian age fashion influenced the Lolita fashion style in
Seeing different cultures come
together in an art form such as fashion is fascinating
however it also makes you question whether it is right to copy aspects of other
In recent years with the development
of the internet cultural appropriation and outrage of people who self-appoint
themselves ‘guardians of culture’ this is due to the fact that the internet
gives everybody a chance to express their opinions and outrage. With cultural
appropriation being such a hot topic at the moment it is inevitable to discuss
Many celebrities have come under fire
for wearing something outside of their cultural background. For example, in
2013 Katy Perry did a Geisha-style performance which she received a lot of
criticism for or Selena Gomez who wore a Hindu symbol on her forehead during a
performance which also let her to getting criticised. These are of course
high-profile cases but will make you think about whether it is appropriate for
you to include pieces from other cultures into your style or whether is it appropriate
for brands to take inspiration from other cultures.
I feel it all comes down to how it is
done when it comes to fashion cross culture is one of the things that keeps
clothes exciting, when done with respect. However, it can go very wrong just
like when done respectfully.
An example of cultural exchange done
right is when Rihanna attended Costume Institute exhibition, “China: Through the Looking Glass,” in New York, she wore a “fur-trimmed robe
by Guo Pei, a Beijing-based Chinese couturier whose work was also part of the Met’s exhibition. Rihanna’s gown was “imperial yellow,” a
shade reserved for the emperors of ancient Chinese dynasties, and perfectly appropriate for pop stars in
the 21st century.”
A bad example of cultural
appropriation is Designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli showcased
a collection which was heavily influenced by Africa. Some people pointed out
that the problem was the hair which was arranged in a cornrows style that more
common for those with African hair however others pointed out that the hair was
not the real problem but the fact that all of the models on the runway were
white Caucasians with not a single African in sight , this contradicted what
Piccoli told Vogue which is that “The message is tolerance and the beauty that
comes out of cross cultural expression” However if this is the case then the
models on the runway should reflect these statements.
Another example of splendid examples
of cultural appropriation done right is when Oskar Metsavaht who is the founder
of Osklen a popular sportswear brand in Brazil took inspiration from Ashaninka tribe for their spring 2016 collection.
The brand stated that “the tribe will
get royalties from Osklen’s spring 2016 collection, as well as a heightened
public awareness of their continued struggle to protect land against illegal loggers and environmental degradation”
“Metsavaht received a lot of concepts by
visiting the Ashaninka tribe he then incorporated
these ideas in the spring collection.”
I think that the way Metsavaht worked
with the Ashaninka tribe is a perfect example of how a brand should approach
cultural appropriation when taking inspiration from other cultures.
Just like in any other form of art it
is always important to give credit where credit is due. Even if you are taking
inspiration from a country, in general, you should still get in contact with
people from the country who can help you make sure you are being respectful of their culture.
When it comes to considering cultural
appropriation to dressing many people will argue that you have no right to wear
things from other cultures however I disagree as I feel that as long as you are
being respectful about it you are not doing anything wrong. However, anything
that is a cultural stereotype should be avoided as it can come off as
disrespectful or ignorant, however if you are simply wearing items of clothing
that are from other cultures it should be acceptable as long as you understand
what you are doing, it is even better if you, for instance, got the item while
visiting the country it came from.
If you are going to wear something
from another culture you should know the history of it, at least the basics.
So, it is evident that cross-cultural
exchange has influenced today’s world phenomenally and definitely sped up the
evolution process since societies sharing
information and goods with one another has influenced how every society is
living today in the modern world. It has also made us all connect and
understand other societies better as to have
a better understanding of one’s traditions one may understand the people
better, therefore, being able to communicate better with people of other
cultures as well. Of course, the fashion world being an art form is also heavily influenced by cross-cultural exchange.
As much as cross-cultural exchange is great in fashion it is very important to
make sure you are being respectful and understanding towards the culture behind