Marc Jacobs: Cultural appropriation backlash 'erodes freedom of speech'

Story highlights

  • American designer Marc Jacobs was accused of cultural appropriation after sending white models with dreadlocks down the runway
  • Jacobs believes the social media backlash constituted attack on his freedom of speech and artistic expression
  • He has issued an apology for "the lack of sensitivity unintentionally expressed by my brevity"

(CNN)"One thing I've learned," says Marc Jacobs with a note of exasperation in his voice, "is that there is no winning on the internet. You can't argue with people online. It is absolutely pointless."

Jacobs is in London at Claridge's ahead of the much anticipated, celebrity-heavy party he is co-hosting with his long-time collaborator and Love magazine founder Katie Grand.
    The designer recently sparked controversy when he sent white models down the runway with faux dreadlocks at his Spring-Summer 2017 show. On social media, he was accused of cultural appropriation.
    The day after the show, Jacobs commented on a photo on the Marc Jacobs brand's Instagram account, dismissing "all who cry 'cultural appropriation' or whatever nonsense'" as "narrow minded," and claimed not to see color or race.
    Designer Marc Jacobs (@themarcjacobs) replies to critics on the Marc Jacobs brand Instagram page
    "funny (sic) how you don't criticize women of color for straightening their hair," he wrote, a comment many considered an insensitive false equivalence considering the ongoing politics surrounding women of color -- and black women in particular -- and straight hair.
    While the designer did eventually take to his personal account to apologize for "the lack of sensitivity unintentionally expressed by my brevity," he remains disheartened by the reaction, which he maintains was an attack on his freedom of speech and artistic expression.
    "The sad bit of this whole drama is the idea that one has to be careful of what they say, how they say it, and to whom they say it to. All this, just because what you say may threaten someone, and they may get offended or outraged. I think that erodes one's freedom of speech," he says.
    "I've never felt that I had to live my life thinking 'Well, I shouldn't do this because somebody might take offense.' That's just sad."
    He laments how much it bothered him when other parties -- including respected Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan -- were attacked for defending him.
    "After Robin came out with the article defending me, haters started hating on her too. She was called nasty things like Uncle Tom and the like, and that is an injustice. I mean this is a woman who is a great writer and this just feels like completely wrong," he says.
    "It's gotten to the point that the more I express my opinion, the more problematic it becomes, but the hypocrisy feels absurd to me. The people who attack me in effect, are saying one thing but acting completely the opposite way. In other words, they are saying 'you can't say or do what you want, but we can.'
    "That," he adds with a laugh, "is absurd."

    The future of fashion

    Looking past the controversy, his Spring-Summer 2017 show -- held last week at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York -- was certainly classic Jacobs, with the theatrics, glitz and glamor that have made him a star in his own right.
    "If I were to consult that crystal ball, I think in five years the runway will absolutely still exist because in my mind there is nothing than can replace the phenomena of a live performance," he says. "Nothing has the same electrical charge of live theater and live performance, and the excitement of seeing and feeling it, the human interaction. That's something that is just irreplaceable."
    And while the industry is anxiously monitoring the rise of the so-called "see now, buy now" shoppable runway espoused by the likes of Tom Ford and Burberry's Christopher Bailey, Jacobs is not yet sold on it. For him, a luxury purchase is less about immediacy than true want.
    "The things that I really covet and bought are things that I've had to wait for months to receive, and I get so excited when they finally come," he says.
    "I would rather wait for something I really want than something I don't really care about but is available to me immediately."