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Kente and LV appreciation or appropriation?

Victor Abloh is American designer, celebrity and businessmen of Ghanian descents, born in Chicago. His net worth is $20 milion. Hi is famous for his collaboration with Kayne West, whom he met during internship at Fendi fashion house in Rome. His clothing and accessories brand Off-white established in 2012 in Milan (Italy) was designing limited collections for multinational brands such as Ikea and Nike. He sold Off-white for $675 milion 2019 to Farfetch, British luxury online retail shop. Time Magazine listed Abloh among 100 most influential individuals in the world in 2018.  Since March 2018 he is artistic director of menswear ready wear line in Louis Vuitton, major luxury fashion brand part of to LVMH group.

In his latest collection presented during Paris Fashion Week, Abloh used kente references in several projects. Using kente was clever branding strategy in post #blacklifematters era.  Lifestyle oriented American corporations are supporting black creativity due to marketing reasons,  such as popularity of #blacklifematters  hashtag and policies of to social responsibility.

Original kente fabric is emblematic form of Ghanian cloth tradition and design heritage. It is based on contrast patterns based on yellow and orange and it is handwoven. Kente differs in patterns depending on ethnic group Ashante, Ewe, Fante and used to be worn by royals for special occasions. Cheaper version is available as kente print in characteristic yellow-orange geometric patterns and is sold across ghanian markets.

Kente was being used before in international context; on 8th of June 2020 when US Democrats in Congress proposed legislation to reform the police following weeks of protests over the death of George Floyd, they were wearing kente scars in characteristic yellow, green, black geometrical pattern. Meaning of this gesture was political. Presenting kente inspired wear during Paris Fashion Week was instead only instrumental.

During Paris Fall/Winter Louis Vuitton fashion show, global spotlight was put on kente again. Designer behind re-branding kente and giving it LV trade mark was Abloh, who could not be easily accused of cultural appropriation due his Ghanian roots.

Question is not the source of inspiration, but who benefited from it. Did Abloh hire Ghanian craftsmen to  hand woven his fabric? Highly doubtful. Kente itself is not a trade mark, but collective memory, it is form of cultural expression, not intellectual property. African artist who appeared in also controversial Beyonce film “Black is king” at least got personal recognition and credits, even though all revenue from film went to Disney company and Beyonce as author.

Presenting collection on Paris Fashion Week comes with enormous competition between brands and it’s creative directors, who are fighting for attention and appreciation of their creativity by any means necessary. If it means coping from indigenous fashion traditions and design – let it be.

In case of using kente in fashion collection appropriation is very easy, because kente has no copy right. Besides, using kente by high-end fashion brand such as LV could be perceived as act of acknowledgment of Ghanian crafts and even paying hommage by Victor Abloh to his parents and ancestors. Unfortunately, he and all LVMH stock enterprise are the ones who will benefit from it.

From market and economical perspective, reference to kente in F/W21 Louis Vuitton collection had one goal – make more money for LVMH group the rest is publicity.

kente louis vuitton

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