Cultural appropriation is ‘ugly’ business

By Bill Colvard -

If it’s Milan Fashion Week, as it was last week, it goes without saying that Gucci is treading in the deep doo-doo of loud outcries protesting cultural appropriation.

It seems the sight of mostly white models sporting jaunty jewel-toned Sikh turbans was deeply offensive to a great many sensitive souls. Not being the enlightened sort, I completely missed that faux pas, but did find the colorful Gucci scarves refashioned into uber-chic hajibs to be a bit disturbing.

But not nearly as disturbing as the models walking around the operating room set that passed for a catwalk carrying perfectly lifelike reproductions of their own heads. I have no idea what that was supposed to be about. Some kind of statement about detached narcissism? Beats me.

And if somebody wants to get upset about cultural appropriation, it should be the good people of the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. One of the models was carrying a baby dragon, which would have been strange if I hadn’t just seen a parade of detached heads. And Queen whatshername’s rolled up velvet outfit was totally knocked off.

And don’t even get me started about the dude in a babushka who looked like the lost love child of Norman Bates and Tevya’s daughter. If this was a game of Clue, my money is on him as the killer of the baby dragon.

As creepy and bizarrio as all these shenanigans were — and they were super creepy and bizarre — the most disturbing thing of all is that Gucci has jumped on the ugly shoe trend. Sneakers and some kind of hybrid hiking/water shoe with everything, day into evening. And I mean everything. Rhinestone nipple tassels deserve good shoes. Everybody knows that.

But ugly shoes at Gucci? Why, oh why, have you forsaken us, Alessandro Michele? Ugly shoes are a bridge too far.

It has been a lifelong dream of mine to own a pair of Gucci loafers. The ones with the horse-bit across the front that replaces tassels or pennies on more plebeian loafers. And this dream goes back at least as far as the 7th or 8th grade when I read Jackie Susann’s magnum opus, “Once is Not Enough,” and learned that all the international playboys and captains of industry wore Gucci horse-bit loafers. So naturally I required two pairs, one brown and one black. Thus far, that requirement has not been met and will not be met by a pair of hybrid water/hiking shoes.

And I will not be comforted by a replica of my head to carry around with me.

On my very first trip to New York in the summer before I started college, one of my primary goals was to secure a pair of Gucci horse-bit loafers to begin my collegiate career. In those pre-internet days, I had no way of checking the price and foolishly assumed a week’s pay from my job at the front desk of the Holiday Inn would be sufficient. It was not.

But I had to find that out for myself. I walked up Fifth Avenue, approached the hallowed doors of Gucci and genuflected slightly as the liveried doorman admitted me to the inner sanctum. Neither Belk nor Spainhours, the two spiffiest haberdashers in Elkin had a liveried doorman, so that was impressive.

Upon entering, my nose was assaulted by the overwhelming smell of fine Italian leather. It was glorious. My smeller is not very good, but to this day, with my eyes shut, I can tell the difference between Italian leather and other dead cow hides. It’s not a particularly lucrative skill, but it is a skill of which I am quite proud, and mention whenever possible. Like now.

It wasn’t long before a deeply sun-tanned Italian gentleman in a Gucci-crested blazer and horse-bit loafers inquired if I might need his assistance. I did, but he had already been of assistance before he even spoke, because I now knew that Gucci loafers were to be worn sans socks if I were going to do a passable impersonation of an international playboy.

It didn’t take long to figure out that it wasn’t going to happen. The fundage just wasn’t there. My international playboy salesman — who I now know was most likely born and raised in Queens — suggested a belt, and that was a splendid idea.

He showed me Gucci’s collection of belts, and the smell was amazing. Instead of the subtle horse-bit on the loafers, the belts all had interlocking golden Gs for a buckle. It was everything a pretentious kid could ask for. Though I was soon to realize the number of people in my home state who were impressed by a buckle made of interlocking Gs was infuriatingly small.

My suave new friend led me to a belt that was black on one side and a deep espresso brown on the other. And the magnificent golden buckle swiveled so that one belt would go with everything. I was ecstatic. And it was only $50. I had never in my young life gotten even remotely close to double digits in purchasing a belt, so $50 seemed like a nice chunk of change, but I figured, it’s really $25 for the black one and $25 for the brown one.

So I went for it, after declining the three for $100 special sale, but only after great thought. My mother had done her best to try to instill a sense of value in me, so it was hard to turn down what was essentially a ‘buy 2, get one free.’ But I couldn’t figure out what color the third one should be, so I chose the reversible one.

Which served me well for many, many years. The gold wash never chipped off and got unsightly. It just slowly faded to a soft silvery-gold. But decades later, I swiveled it from black to brown one time too many, and the buckle came off in my hand. It was devastating, and kind of ironic that the feature I valued most, reversibility, was the feature that brought about the belt’s downfall.

I miss the belt still, but I still have the buckle, and sometimes think I should put it on a big chunky gold chain like the gangsta rappers. Alessandro Michele is not the only one who can culturally appropriate.

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.