Ethnic up the wazoo: The fashion industry goes global for inspiration, but is it Orientalizing or trailblazing?

Marie Claire magazine’s “Indian Stunner” picks

Tory Burch shirt retails for $550
J.Crew trousers retail for $228
Nicole Miller clutch retails for $175
(Photos provided by their respective companies)

By Amy He

No trend is safe from the hands of fashion designers who are constantly on the prowl to satisfy the fickle whims of the industry. The latest trend? Ethnic clothing.

A new concept has entered into the fashion mainstream: going global. For the Western-dominated industry of high-end fashion, going global doesn’t mean expanding markets. In the past few seasons, designers have been obsessing over being ethnically influenced.

Ann Taylor, Tibi, and Prada are examples of brands that are adding various ethnic elements to their pieces. Designers are showcasing their ethnically patterned dresses, crowning their models with Orient-inspired jewelry, and boasting a global presence in their work.

Once designers put forth their seasonal creations for public viewing, magazines are there to sensationalize the latest fashion trends. This year, for resort season — which showcases the type of clothing designed with wealthy, jet-setting, middle-aged women in mind — magazines like Marie Claire picked up on the new trend.

Roberta Freymann top retails for $225
Blue Plate skirt retails for $98
Enzo Angiolini sandals retails for $59
(Photos provided by their respective companies)

In a slide show on the Internet Marie Claire declared one of the season’s trends to be the “Indian Stunner.” They praised designers for adapting “timeless Indian chic” for easy-to-wear, trend-proof pieces. The slideshow housed photos of clutches decorated with colorful jewels, blouses adorned with intricate motifs, and bangles with showy gems. reinforced that the key trend for the spring/summer season is ethnic fashion, stating, “If you love hippy prints, South American colours, Indian embroidery or Far Eastern themes, you’ll have fun this season.”

While it may be new for the runway, the idea of ethnicizing fashion trends is nothing original; photographers have been doing it for a while now.

In an editorial titled, “Orient Excess,” photographer Javier Vallhonrat romanticizes an Ottoman harem through an imagery of a white woman, lying about in various states of undress, drenched in sweat. He uses set design to mimic what he thought a harem was supposed to have looked like.

Josh Olin, in two recent editorials, took liberties in utilizing ethnic fashion in photo shoots. In one shot from “Color Me Bad” from the spring edition of V Man, five white male models are dressed in modern wear that is decorated with Chinese symbols. Two of the models are sporting straw hats. Another is carrying a Chinese-style parasol.

In another shot, the same models are wearing colorful Middle Eastern garb. Some of the models wear turbans as well.

Also shot by Josh Olin, in the April issue of Dazed & Confused, Indian model Lakshimi Menon is layered with tribally inspired clothing, crowned with jewelry-covered headgear. The magazine titles the shoot “Divine Power.”

High-end fashion has never been socially conscious about what it puts out in the name of art. As fashion critic Cathy Horyn of the New York Times put it, “The irony in fashion is that it loves change, but it can’t actually change anything. It can only reflect a change in the air.”

With all these whimsies of the design world, are those in the fashion industry truly going global, or are they just reflecting a change in the air? Are they merely making other cultures into a trend? When magazine feature editors, who are just a few words away from suggesting “10 ways to wear your non-white culture this season,” is this another aspect of fashion that we should ignore by sitting tight, closing our eyes, and hoping it passes by soon? Or is it just blatant appropriation? (end)

Amy He can be reached at

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