Skip to main content
Publish date:

3.1 Phillip Lim Provides a Promising Example of Cross-Cultural Exchange in its Spring Campaign

Valentino may want to take notes.
Author:
Liya Kebede in 3.1 Phillip Lim's spring 2016 campaign. 

Liya Kebede in 3.1 Phillip Lim's spring 2016 campaign. 

Over the past year, we've seen several instances of fashion designers trying to incorporate other cultures into their collections, often in misguided and offensive ways. But when it comes to cross-cultural dialogue within the fashion industry, I'm not really sure what the "appropriate" exchange should look like — or if there really is such a thing, to be honest. 

This season, no collection drew more polarizing views in regards to this topic than Valentino's Africa-inspired spring 2016 collection, meant to promote "tolerance" and "cross-cultural expression" according to designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli. We at Fashionista took issue with the Paris runway show's casting (only 10 out of 91 looks were worn by black models) and use of cornrows, while Vanessa Friedman (reasonably) asked whether the alternative of not engaging with other cultures at all would be any better. Then, Valentino released its spring 2016 campaign images, which Business of Fashion named one of the top 10 campaigns of the season for reminding readers of the "long-standing dialogue between fashion and the [African] continent."

Valentino's spring 2016 campaign. Photo: Steve McCurry

Valentino's spring 2016 campaign. Photo: Steve McCurry

Recommended Articles

But despite the brand's thoughtful decision to employ famed National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry of "The Afghan Girl," there really was something a bit regressive about the ad campaign. It wasn't just the lack of diversity in casting (the primary criticism of the spring 2016 runway show), but also the use of the Maasai people as a backdrop for white models in expensive clothes, as Eliza pointed out. Despite the designers' message of cross-cultural exchange and references to Maasai-derived patterns within the collection (which they're profiting from), there's a distinct and uncomfortable separation between the two groups in the images, in which members of the Maasai serve as a kind of foil to the models, who represent "modernity."

Taking a leaf straight out of Valentino's book (why?), Mango tapped Kendall Jenner for its "Tribal Spirit" campaign, which took inspiration from the African savanna. According to Mango vice president Daniel López, the company thought Jenner, born and raised in L.A. amongst the Kardashian-Jenner clan, would be the "the best model to embody this trend." Sigh.

So, what's the alternative to the type of "exchanges" we've been seeing in the industry?

Earlier today, 3.1 Phillip Lim released it spring 2016 campaign, photographed in Ethiopia, with "a skeleton crew to capture the local culture without too much staging and casting," per WWD. The shoot was led by Ethiopian model and philanthropist Liya Kebede, the only professional model employed for the campaign, who took Lim and the crew around the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. The result: a beautiful, genuine example of cross-cultural exchange, in which Kebede (dressed in 3.1 Phillip Lim) interacts with locals and members of her own family. Bravo. 

Liya Kebede in 3.1 Phillip Lim's spring 2016 campaign. Photo: Viviane Sassen

Liya Kebede in 3.1 Phillip Lim's spring 2016 campaign. Photo: Viviane Sassen