For a few seasons running, Valentino has been eliciting outrage over styling entirely or largely white casts of models in cornrows. There was its pre-fall 2015 lookbook and accompanying campaign. Then the "Africa"-themed spring 2016 show, again featuring an overwhelmingly white host of models. At this point, you could take note of people's frustrated tweets and online comments and think seriously about why they're offended... or you could double down on the premise, as Valentino seems to have done with its spring 2016 ad campaign, released Friday.
In the photo series, shot by Steve McCurry in a Maasai village in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, the team recreated the runway show look, which also incorporates dreadlocks wrapped into a bun — and has subscribed to the Vogue school of using people of non-European cultures as a backdrop for white models wearing European designers' clothing.
Valentino has tried to make clear that the collection and accompanying beauty looks were created in the name of cross-cultural exchange. As Guido Palau, the lead hairstylist for the spring 2016 presentation, explained in his show notes at the time, "The clothes have some tribal inspiration, so the hair has that feeling as well... It's a bit influenced by the '60s and '70s when girls used to travel and they would bring back inspiration from other places and cultures, which is kind of an eclectic way of styling yourself."
Sure, opening oneself up to different cultures is always a great thing. But it just can't be as pure as that when a fashion house is making money off "chic-ifying" hairstyles originally created by black women by transferring them to white women's heads, in a time when black women can't necessarily wear such hairstyles without very public criticism. This on top of the fact that designers — and not just Valentino — still fail at racially diverse casting in their ad campaigns and runway shows, regardless of theme or location.
Valentino, maybe it's time to do what any writer would advise against: Read the comments.