At first glance, Rihanna’s new W Magazine cover, shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott and styled by Edward Enninful, is (I’ll admit) a little startling. There’s something about the barbaric look and setting that feels a bit menacing; something about the red makeup on her fact that feels a little Rufio from Hook; and something about the tribal face that feels…wrong. And of course, there’s the always-startling reminder that septum rings are still in — but that’s a topic for another time.
A quick glance does suggest that this could be another case of cultural appropriation in fashion; as one commenter on Tom and Lorenzo wrote, “it just gives the vibe of native indigenous, or tribal type reference,” and that can be hard to swallow. In response to the photo shoot, Jezebel echoed a similar sentiment: they said the photos made them a little uneasy, but they still couldn’t quite articulate why.
In truth, this is not technically a case of cultural appropriation. Because “cultural appropriation” implies appropriating one culture, and here, Rihanna’s style and makeup draw from a variety of cultures. This photo shoot has certainly prompted a debate, but it seems the variety of cultural influences here renders the shoot less offensive than something as blatant as, say, Michelle Williams in AnOther Magazine:
But the debate can’t be this easily tidied up either. The extent to which this photo shoot offends particular cultures is not something we can mathematically calculate; it’s subjective, contingent on personal preferences and levels of sensitivity.
Personally I think that, as in all facets of life, in fashion we must choose our battles. And, this battle? It just doesn’t feel worth it. It’s Rihanna’s other spread in this issue, in which she poses alongside Iman and Naomi Campbell, that feels more deserving of our attention. It’s the bringing together of three generations (OK — Hollywood generations) that feels most worthy of our time.
But here’s another thought: if Rihanna’s cover shoot is a case of anything, it’s clearly a case of animal appropriation — and frankly it’s surprising no one has picked up on this yet. Wild animals, domesticated animals, show animals, circus animals — really, the whole lot. And if we take a step back it’s actually rather fitting. Rihanna is always one step ahead of the game; clearly she’s aware of animals’ — and in particular, dogs’ — increasingly coveted status as a fashion accessory.
And it’s not just any type of dog either, but rather Huskies that are on the fashion radar. Scoff all you want — I’m just telling it like I see it. And here’s what I’ve seen:
I’ve seen the new Costume National campaign, shot by Glen Luchford, which features the model Sarah Engelland, but more importantly, a Husky too. And I say “more importantly” because, according to the positioning of the Husky in this ad, it appears to be pretty important — or at least important enough to obscure part of Sarah Engelland’s body.
And I’ve seen further Huskies too, used in Rihanna’s W Magazine cover shoot. Feral, blood-sucking-looking canines, yes, but Huskies nonetheless.
Of course two instances of fashion Huskies is nothing to write home about. Two fashion Huskies could easily be chalked up to a coincidence — and nothing more. But then again I wouldn’t be covering this if there were only two fashion Huskies to speak of, now would I? No — there’s a third fashion Husky making the rounds (there always is), this time on top of Lara Stone for the September issue of Vogue UK, shot by Mario Sorrenti.
A hairy trend indeed.