Christian Louboutin is a true citizen of the world, typically pinging between Paris, Portugal, Egypt, New York, Bombay, Bhutan — you name it.
When he unveiled his exhibition at the Palais de la Porte Dorée early this year, which unfurls his fascination with those places and many more until Jan. 3, 2021, he made a brief plea for cultural appreciation.
“It’s so important to be interested in other people’s cultures. I would die if I wasn’t nourished by other people’s cultures….It’s the beginning of tolerance to be open to other civilizations,” he said at the time.
Asked to elaborate on his point of view for WWD’s series exploring the cultural appropriation/appreciation debate, he submitted the following letter:
“Cultural appropriation is a non-subject to me. Since the beginning of time, since the Silk Road, everything is the fruit of cultural mixture.
The attitude of certain people literally stealing things from any culture without saying where it came from has to be deeply condemned, but for me cultural appropriation is about being interested in others; it is tolerance; it’s a chance. As a frequent traveler, I find it completely normal to be inspired by all the trips I do. I don’t ask myself whether it belongs to a tribe, a country, etc. … But when there is something that comes from India, from the Hopi or the Kachina, I openly reference it.
This is also how ideas travel around the world, it is what diversity is made of and how people get a chance to evolve and to grow. If people start putting themselves in chapels, in beliefs and don’t have the right anymore to be inspired by other cultures it is an open door on a very, very dangerous fundamentalism. For example, the White House. It is inspired by Greek architecture, which was itself borrowed from Egyptian architecture…
Can you blame someone for taking an interest in someone else [other] than his family? That would be terrible, that would be the worst. It would mean everyone has to stay in his own little village, little culture. Nowadays, with scientific progress, DNA research…who can say that they are culturally pure? We have already experienced in the past the idea of purism that has led to terrible things. When we decide that our culture is pure and belongs to us only, we will realize that we are close to a very, very totalitarian culture.
It is a necessity to reference sources and to underline the work of each person, because one can understand where the inspirations come from. But there is an important distinction to highlight. Borrowing things from a culture and labeling it with a brand name is an unacceptable choice. And the word choice is important here. On the other hand, collaborating with people who are not from our culture is a very pleasant, very enriching, very interesting, very inspiring and very important thing that continues to make cultures discuss among themselves.
It should be mentioned here it was thanks to museums that displayed works from other countries that people became interested by and traveled to countries that could be deserts today. Egypt is one of the most visited countries in the world, but this is partially due to the fact that Egyptian culture traveled out of Egypt.
The affiliation to a culture is a complex subject, but the fact that cultures travel is a very good point. As Yuval Noah Harari says in “Sapiens,” exchanges between people started with commerce. Writing was born thanks to commerce. It is commerce that forced people to interact with each other, to exchange ideas, objects, fabrics. Things started traveling very early and started to mix very early. We cannot talk about globalization on the one hand and hope that people will stay in their chapel on the other hand; we must have fallen on our heads.
It’s impossible to ask someone to be creative and at the same time to stay in his own culture. It’s absurd. What is the “American culture?” It’s a melting pot of cultures that were already there. It is impossible to speak of an original culture, it is an everyday construction, constantly evolving. For example, I discovered quilts in Arizona that I thought were American Indian. But I learned later that they were originally from Sierra Leone in Africa and more recently they are found in the white cowboy culture. So who do they belong to?
Since the hunter-gatherers, cultures have continued to mix and enrich each other, we cannot freeze them one by one otherwise we would immediately return to prehistory. You have to accept that ideas — like objects — cross ages and oceans, otherwise you isolate yourself. We cannot react in such a dangerous and xenophobic manner as to say that cultures belong to those from whom they originate: That would be to say that there is no possibility of cultural exchange. Everyone would lose something, all people in all countries in all places of the world have something to lose if they stick to their culture and refrain from caring about others.”
– Christian Louboutin