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6 Apr

The Outside View: Cultural Hybridity and the Way forward

Rapper Pharrell Williams’ arrival as creative director of Louis Vuitton men’s completes the transformation of luxury fashion right into a cultural industry for some.

Others see it as a victory of celebrity marketing over creativity.

In fact, it’s a mixing of the 2, a tacit acknowledgment that it’s hybridity driving luxury and fashion forward. 

Hybridity is the unexpected clash between dissonant worlds, cultures and imaginations in addition to the reconciliation of tradition and innovation. And that’s what allows the industry to stay resolutely creative, alive and anchored in today’s changing and culturally mosaic world.

Global brands haven’t any alternative but adapt to our less and fewer Western-centric world. Demographically, Chinese and Indian people already represent 40 percent of the world population, white people will develop into a minority in america in 2045 and the world is growing more racially diverse because of this of accelerating migration. Non-white ethnic groups will account for about 25-30 percent of the posh spend within the U.S. market by 2025, versus 20 percent in 2019, in line with a Bain & Co. report.

Western brands must anticipate the rising national pride and cultural confidence of developing countries like India, Brazil and South Korea. In China, national consumption is increasing and a brand’s Western origin is just not a key driver anymore. Emerging Chinese fashion designers akin to Chen Peng or Feng Chen Wang are acclaimed by the younger generations for his or her capability to mix Western fashion with traditional Chinese inspirations. And young Chinese luxury consumers expect more collaborations between the 2 worlds. 

Within the U.S., minority consumption is on the rise and Black consumers show a powerful preference for Black-owned fashion brands and types that culturally resonate with Black culture.

Global brands must face the growing racial sensitivity within the U.S., following the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the political controversies concerning the claim of African cultural heritage assets stolen by European colonizers (referred to in Marvel’s “Black Panther” movies). 

Our world is becoming a cultural hybrid and young people thirst for fresh alternatives. 

  • Greater than 900 million tourists traveled internationally last 12 months, with 8 million students studying abroad.
  • “Squid Game” became a phenomenon. 
  • K-pop has moved into the U.S. mainstream and outperforms all all over the world, from Indonesia and India to the Middle East and Mexico.
  • Bad Bunny, who hails from Puerto Rico and sings in Spanish, is probably the most streamed artist on Spotify globally.

International brands must now address this cultural shift to remain relevant with the hybrid Gen Z — probably the most ethnically and culturally diverse generation of all time.

Up to now, fashion designers were keen on getting creative inspirations from foreign cultures. Cultural hybridity is a component of fashion’s DNA and, in that sense, the industry was a pioneer. 

Laurence Lim


The work of designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier has shown a fascination with “exotic” cultures — mostly Africa, Japan, China, India. 

More brands at the moment are metabolizing foreign inspiration into their design or localizing their communication, although some initiatives could seem constrained by the growing injunction made to brands to embrace diversity and inclusion, or by the will to flatter local national pride, especially in China.

Chanel recently brought its Métiers d’Art show to Dakar, Senegal, in tandem with local embroiderers and craftspeople, after having conducted the very first fashion show in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Spanish brand Loewe launched a latest bag collection inspired by antique Chinese monochrome glaze ceramic, in collaboration with a Chinese local artist. They hosted an exhibition on the ART021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair, which flattered the China pride and successfully released the gathering globally. 

In 2021, Chinese artist Xu Bing — famous for his calligraphy mixing Chinese characters and Latin alphabet — designed the label of Château Mouton Rothschild, illustrated annually since 1945 by Western master artists which have included Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Salvador Dalí. Xu Bing’s iconic Square Word Calligraphy, mixing complexity and concision, tradition and modernity, resonated admirably with the wine itself. 

Yet, hybridizing cultures is just not all the time a simple task.

Lately, the talk on foreign cultures and fashion has sharpened over the difference between appreciation and appropriation. Last 12 months, Dior was accused of “culturally appropriating” the Chinese horse-face skirt “Mamianqun,” popular within the Ming and Qing dynasties, described by Dior as an “iconic Dior silhouette.” Besides the backlash on Chinese social media Weibo, several protests of Chinese students from the diaspora surged in Paris and other European cities. Dior didn’t reply to the controversy, but pulled off the skirt from online sales.

Brands obviously need to pay tribute to their multicultural inspirations. And beyond that, they need to conceive of cultural hybridity because the confrontation of their very own creative world with multicultural inspirations that they should metabolize with the intention to give birth to something resolutely latest. 

Would Lautréamont’s famous quote, adopted by the French Surrealist poets — “As beautiful as the possibility meeting, on a dissecting table, of a sewing-machine and an umbrella” — apply to Pharrell William’s 2011 Timberland black boots featuring the double C Chanel logo?

Collaborations with artists, celebrities, influencers, streetwear labels and between luxury fashion brands themselves have develop into the major expression of hybridity in fashion luxury. 

The primary major cross-culture fashion collaboration might be traced back to the lobster dress designed by Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli and Spanish artist Salvador Dalí in 1937, now housed within the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Since 2010, collaborations have develop into a gradual trend, but is the creativity all the time there?

Last 12 months, they were at a fever pitch with Gucci and Adidas, Balmain and Barbie and Burberry and Minecraft. Balenciaga’s platform-sole Crocs and “The Simpsons” sweatshirts and leather Ikea bags epitomize this try and condemn fashion elitism and break the boundaries between luxury and the profane world. 

The mix of hip-hop with luxury — predominant amongst collaborations — has develop into a longtime concept. 

And if many collaborations are still driving sales, we also observe a collaboration fatigue amongst Millennial and Gen Z consumers, who expect authentic creativity from luxury and fashion brands.  Interestingly, hip-hop culture found a latest breath in China, where the rebellious messages from Black people’s anger over racism and poverty were transposed into celebrations of free expression, a highly emotional topic amongst young Chinese people. Last 12 months, the collaboration between whiskey brand Chivas and Lisa, the Thai rapper member of the South Korean girl group Blackpink, was praised locally as she perfectly blends Western values of individual freedom, Confucian values of self-improvement and the “positive energy” of Chinese ideology. 

In an effort to stay connected with the young generations, fashion and luxury brands should broaden their cultural horizon: explore untapped subcultures, geographies, time periods, artistic inspirations and savoir-faire — all all over the world. 

I think cultural hybridity is the long run of luxury and fashion —  the condition to maintain the industry’s imagination and freedom alive. 

Laurence Lim is founder and managing director of the Cherry Blossoms Intercultural Branding marketing agency, which relies in Hong Kong and Recent York City.

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