Givenchy’s “Victorian Chola” Theme Elicits Mixed Feelings

Baby hairs are always reappearing in fashion. We saw them last season at DKNY, and then in countless editorials afterward. They were shown this season at Adam Selman, and, again this week at Givenchy. Once, backstage, a hairstylist explained his use of the style: “It’s fun when the trends start in the street, and someone saw a Latin girl on the subway and decided that would be the look.” Easy, right? In our extremely fast-paced world, inspiration can come from anywhere, be it Tumblr or a street corner. Reimagining something in a different context is what makes an impact and brings shock value.

This week, many in the fashion flock were rejoicing over Givenchy’s showing, and rightfully so: Riccardo Tisci is nothing short of a brilliant designer. Vogue points out that Victoriana is a burgeoning trend this season. As the review explains, “It crystallized as a moment that can only be described as sublime at Givenchy.” The predominantly black collection was absolutely breathtaking — please see it in full, glorious detail on the runway. Textures were juxtaposed, sheer chiffons gave way to silk skirts, opulent furs layered over equally opulent velvets, and suiting with peplum was so ornate that it looked worthy of a couture showing. The face jewels and septum piercings only added to the allure.

But, then, Vogue named the inspiration for this epic show: “‘Chola Victorian,’ [Tisci] declared backstage. ‘She’s the boss of the gang.’”

The use of the word “chola” is complicated. For starters, the word is said to have an origin in the Aztecan word for “dog, mutt.” It was used to describe Mexican immigrants in a derogatory way, and was eventually reclaimed by gangs in the 1970s. The term has entered the mainstream, sure. But, that doesn’t mean people should use it as they see fit.

In other words, it is cultural appropriation to use “chola” as an inspiration for a show, or a beauty look, and then largely ignore the women who’ve popularized the look you’re riffing. Hair is often a visual identifier of culture and background — and 40+ models who do not identify as Hispanic cannot be “cholas.” And, it’s not exactly “paying tribute” unless you include and celebrate the people you were inspired by. (To the best of this writer’s knowledge, Joan Smalls is the only Latina model who walked the Givenchy show last night.), however, doesn’t seem to see a problem: “As an Italian, Tisci has always had a thing for Latin archetypes,” says the show review. “The California chola girl qualifies.”

Read the whole story at Refinery29.