Friday, May 20, 2016

Vlisco exhibit, and my thoughts on diversity in fashion

I recently went to visit a friend in Philadelphia.  As it happens, she lives walking distance from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which currently has an exhibit on Vlisco.  Huzzah!
If you're not familiar with Vlisco, you're in for a treat.  They are the most prominent manufacturer of Dutch Wax fabrics-- batiks originally developed in The Netherlands for sale in West Africa. 
The prints are gorgeous, detailed, and exuberant.  I've provided high-resolution images so you can zoom way, way in to see what I'm talking about.
I love their sense of humor.
Do you somehow remain unconvinced about the awesomeness of Vlisco?  These sewing machine prints will break your heart.
The exhibit also showcased the work of African designers who used Vlisco in their collections.  I want all of these clothes.
Check out the back of this dress.
I would never have thought to design this, but it is awesome.
Here's the back:
I covet this shirtdress.
There's so much more.  Check out my Flickr album.

As we walked around the exhibit, my friend and I got to talking about diversity in the fashion world.  On the surface, it seems odd that the lack of diversity in Western fashion would bother me so much.  After all, I am a skinny young white woman, and the fashion industry is heavily biased towards skinny young white women.  The clothing in stores favors my body type and skin color, and I see myself in all the advertising.  I should be happy, right?

Not so much.  Why?  It's really boring out there.  What we get in Western fashion is pretty much only what looks good on skinny young white women.  As far as textiles go, we have a pretty impoverished selection of knits and wovens, mostly in subdued solid colors.  Clothes tend to be clingy and form-fitting because it's easier and cheaper to rely on the inherent stretch in fabrics than to go to the effort of tailoring.  Attempts at diversity are aimed at making clothes that look good on skinny young white women look good on people who aren't skinny young white women, not to develop clothes that look awesome on people because of the fact that they're not skinny young white women.

Take this outfit on the left, for instance.  It would not look nearly so good on a tiny young thing such as myself.  It's got gravitas, and I just don't.
As a result, I can't see a tradition like Vlisco emerging in Western fashion because because the bright colors and bold patterns tend to fight with the complexions of white women.  I think we can all agree that surely that would be a huge loss.  I want to see more Vliscos in this world.

In short, we should support diversity not just because it makes life better for people who aren't skinny young white women (though that certainly is a really good reason), but also because it improves fashion in general.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.