I’m trying to understand why no one seems to question LVMH prizewinner Marine Serre’s use of the Islamic crescent in her designs and logo. Fashion journalists have praised her work and the fact that her collection, “Radical Call for Love” was “inspired” by the attacks in Paris in November 2015 and in Brussels. I’ve read every article about it, and none of them question the use of Islam’s crescent, or what it means — to her, to her audience, or to Muslims.
By Serre’s own assertion, the crescent is a direct reference to Islam, a religion to which she doesn’t seem to have a personal connection. She’s using the Muslim symbol at a time when Muslims all over the world face persecution; from over half a million Rohingya Muslims refugees fleeing for their lives, to the current U.S. “Muslim Ban” and demonization in mass media as a way to fuel White Supremacy against minority groups. Serre doesn’t just use the crescent in her collections, she recently designed burka-inspired outfits, without casting a single muslim model to walk her show.
Although her work is aesthetically appealing, Serre’s motives are unclear and not in a good way. Cathy Horn said in her recent piece: “Her collection, which included references to 19th-century dress and contemporary sportswear, was a response to those events [the attacks], although Serre stopped short of calling it a political statement.” But what, exactly is the statement? Without explaining her intentions, she risks perpetuating the French tradition of taking what it wants from Middle Eastern cultures for profit.
Questioning cultural appropriation might annoy certain people who follow fashion, but what those of us who are trying to question oppressive power relations. It is not about “political correctness,” it is about stopping White Christian Europeans from pillaging the rest of the world’s cultures.
When asked about the crescent, Serre has said, “There are people who think the print is quite radical, and there are others who don’t know anything about politics and think it’s just cute. And this is exactly what I love.” Making non-Muslim people wear a holy symbol that they might otherwise disdain isn’t radical if they don’t know where it comes from. And by the way, the use of the word “radical,” here, should not be taken lightly. It’s a word often used with negative connotations for Muslims. And what, exactly, makes the use of the crescent “radical”?
Looking at Serre’s prints, it is almost impossible not to see a political statement, and anyway, it’s not up to Serre to decide if appropriation is a political statement. Is it fair game to use the symbol of Islam to evoke the terrorist attacks on Paris and Brussels to market her brand? Will someone call me an “angry Arab” if I felt insulted? As writer Susan Scafidi has said, “Culture is fluid, and today’s taboo may be tomorrow’s trend. Still, civility requires at least an inquiry — unless, of course, you intend to offend.” How has not one single journalist asked a white European designer her motives behind profiting from a religious symbol that is far from her culture? Is it willful ignorance?