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Let's Discuss the Hair at Valentino — Again

The brand moves from cornrows to Bantu knots. The lack of diversity in model casting, however, remains.
Valentino pre-fall 2016. Photo: Valentino

Valentino pre-fall 2016. Photo: Valentino

After playing around with styling models in cornrows and with excess baby hair for multiple seasons, Valentino is at it again, utilizing traditional African hairstyles on predominately white models for its pre-fall 2016 collection. (See all the images here.) This time, it’s the Bantu knot — a hairstyle characterized by small twisted knots of sectioned hair — that the brand has appropriated.

It isn't the first time the Bantu knot has hit the runway. Guido Palau, who styled the hair at Valentino, also gave models Bantu knots at the spring 2015 Marc by Marc Jacobs show. Palau told The Huffington Post at the time that he wanted a "very girlie, punky vibe" and his inspiration came from Björk, the Icelandic late '90s singer who appeared in a video wearing Bantu knots. The stylist failed to mention the rich history behind the Bantu knot and the origin of the term at the time; and while Vogue made the Björk connection again last week, Fashionista's requests for comment from Palau in regards to this latest collection have not yet been returned. 

Though many associate the Bantu knot with a trendy '90s hairstyle, the term Bantu describes a group of people who are are believed to have originated in West Africa and spread to encompass various ethnic groups throughout the continent who share a common dialect and similar customs. One of those groups, the Zulu people of South Africa, are said to have conceived the actual term "Bantu knots." The Somali Bantu, descendants from Mozambique and Tanzania, were referred to as Jareer a term used to describe kinky and coarse African hair. The physical feature that differentiated the Bantu people from other Somali nomads was in fact their hair texture.

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Rihanna in 2014. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Clear Channel

Rihanna in 2014. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Clear Channel

Because of the hairstyle's historical origins, Bantu knots carry substantial meaning in black culture and are representative of black pride. Today, black women may wear the natural hairstyle to prep a deep curl/wave look (also known as the Bantu knot-out) or wear as is. Bantu knot-out tutorials have saturated YouTube showing 'how-to' steps for a variety of hair textures. Celebrities such as Jada Pinkett Smith in "The Matrix," Halle Berry, Janet Jackson, Left-Eye from TLC, Rihanna, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu have all worn the style in individual ways while maintaining a sense of soul. Though, the style is just as common outside of the celebrity realm.

With this Valentino collection, Charlotte Olympia's spring 2016 collection and Mango's latest ad campaign starring Kendall Jenner, African history seems to be influencing the fashion industry more now than ever — and that's not necessarily a bad thing. But when black hairstyles are used to achieve an "edgy" look on white models without any effort to credit their history — or worse,  are incorrectly credited to someone like Björk — it is a problem. Why is it that when someone of non-African descent pulls off a look appropriated from our culture, it is embraced by high-end fashion? When will the industry finally give credit where credit is due?