Industry, News — June 28, 2016 at 5:42 pm

The Return of the “Geisha”: Are Asian Stereotypes Making a Comeback in Lingerie?

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I wrote this article a week or so ago, but decided against publishing it. Then I thought about it more and decided this article needed to be published, but also that I should explain why I was so hesitant in the first place. And so here we are a with a blog post that’s somewhat meta and rather inconclusive, but hopefully shines a light on what seems to be a returning (and disturbing) trend.

One thing I’m not the least bit hesitant about, however, is telling you how absurd the image at the top of this blog post is. Part of Marlies Dekkers’ ongoing Feminine|Feminist campaign (where she discusses, with no irony whatsoever, “disarming stereotypes”), I find myself struggling to understand how this incredibly racist image was approved by someone who claims to be a feminist (And no, we’re not going to debate if it is or isn’t racist. It is. Here are some resources for anyone who’s confused: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

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Not only does Marlies Dekker’s “Couture Geisha” fashion show – complete with stark white face paint, terrible black wigs, and conspicious bowing – reinforce the classic, not-at-all-subtle stereotype of East Asian women being submissive, sexually available playthings, it also tips over into lurid, startling Yellowface. Painting white people to “look Asian” is unacceptable. It’s not “cultural inspiration.” It’s cultural parody, as much a caricature as Mr. Yunioshi.

Marlies Dekkers, meet Mr. Yunioshi

Much like mainstream fashion designers who are “inspired by” people of color, yet somehow manage to avoid using them in fashion shows, advertising, or marketing campaigns, Marlies Dekker’s vision of East Asia is overwhelmingly Eurocentric in nature. It is an archaic, colonialist fantasy of Asia, informed and inspired by imperialism, not by the history of the culture it claims to portray.

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While putting together this post, I asked a couple of my fellow lingerie bloggers – marionettemew and girlandlingerie – what they thought of Marlies Dekkers newest collection. They gave TLA permission to share what they had to say below.

There are so many brands that I want to love. But so many of them have, at some point, released an “oriental” themed collection. Sometimes it’s not a big thing, just cherry blossom prints and a Japanese name – how original! Sometimes it’s a lot worse…drawing on orientalist stereotypes, using yellowface in an ad campaign…as Marlies Dekkers has just done. I’ve loved the look of her Dame de Paris bra since I first saw a photo of it, and if it came in my size I would have bought one. It makes me sad that I would have supported a company that seems to think so little of me.

Lingerie is sexualized, and so are Asian women, so maybe it’s not surprising that brands try to combine the two. But they’re selling a fetish along with their satin and lace. When they send their models down the runway, in heavy wigs and painted faces, palms pressed together, what are they trying to do? What feelings do they want to evoke?

When people incorporate their own cultures into their work, they’re sharing something of themselves. It has meaning. When it’s done by someone with no connection to the culture, though, they can only use the most superficial, visible aspects of the cultures they claim to be inspired by. When this happens in a society where there is a long history of stereotypes against “foreign” cultures, all these visual cues evoke and reinforce those racist stereotypes: in this case, that of the sexualized “Geisha,” the silent, foreign, “exotic” woman.

These stereotypes are harmful. As I was writing this, I tried to search for the names of brands that have done this before, and couldn’t find anything because the search results were flooded with “Asian” themed porn. Is that to be the only form of media in which I am to be widely represented?

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More distressing, however, is the fact that Marlies Dekkers is far from the only company looking towards the past. The newish label Guerilla Geisha traded heavily in this sort of imagery for their first season (although their second collection seems to be noticeably lacking this sort of styling…did they perhaps receive negative feedback?).

In addition, Bordelle’s most recent collection is named “Japonisme” and is meant to explore the “influences of Japanese art, fashion, and aesthetic on Western culture.” Like Marlies Dekkers, Bordelle claims to be inspired by Geisha. But how? The label has been doing open cup bras, strappy garter belts, and leg harnesses for years. How does Swiss embroidery and chopsticks in the hair evoke the art and legacy of geishas?

Of course, it’s worth noting that neither brands “inspiration” extends to actually using East Asian models. The subtext is that the models chosen are better at “being” Asian than an Asian model could ever be…or at least that they’re better at appealing to the orientalist fantasies of whoever these collections are supposed to entice.

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Obviously, Marlies Dekkers, Bordelle, and Guerilla Geisha aren’t the first companies to look for “exotic inspiration.” But what’s interesting is how this trope has made a concerted reappearance in the past year.

I’m inclined to believe the resurgence of this particular stereotype is connected to the lingerie industry’s overall conservatism. Many lingerie brands are terrified of the future of intimate apparel, which seems to point towards more savvy consumers who are better-informed regarding their choices, more comfortable with shopping online (or special-ordering from brick-and-mortar boutiques they trust, even if they’re far away), and who want to see themselves represented in brand imagery.

My hypothesis is that this fear of the future (combined with more than a little bit of laziness) has led to brands doubling on things they think will work now because they worked in the past. But that sort of behavior is exactly why so many brands and boutiques are falling to pieces. The key to longevity isn’t in relying on the past; it’s looking towards the future.

Modern Japanese lingerie from La Vie a Deux

And now we get to the reason why I was reluctant to publish this piece at first.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things in this weird, post-burnout, semi-hiatus TLA’s been lingering in for awhile (also, hi and thank you for still being here!), and one topic I keep circling is how difficult it is for a business – any business really, but especially a fashion business – to be both socially conscious and profitable.

Yes, the founders of said businesses can be socially aware. But the actual business? Especially when we’re talking about an industry that aggressively defines acceptable personhood and bases it on a narrow standard of physical beauty? I don’t know. I’m just not sure it’s possible.

Modern Japanese lingerie from Wacoal

But also, I wanted to talk about the weird internal negotiation a piece like this requires.

As you’ve likely noticed, TLA is a business. The site makes money, most typically through advertising. And even though I’m dedicated to posting this article (there’s been 25 revisions so far; I think it’s time to hit the publish button), I can’t help but think of the saying, “Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

No, TLA isn’t putting on runway shows of people in bad geisha makeup or styling photoshoots of models with chopsticks in their hair, but I also know that we’re not doing everything perfectly. And as the site grows, I’m acutely aware of how difficult it is to navigate what’s popular versus what’s right. And what’s popular is almost always more profitable than what’s right.

Advertisers, especially in lingerie, get antsy when you don’t fit into the industry’s ideals or parrot industry chatter. Just looking the way I do (dark skin, kinky hair, visible scars, etc.), is a disadvantage in my niche. I’m already starting out in the “negative,” so to speak, and so I’m constantly feeling like I’m walking a tightrope. How far do I go? What do I say? Am I okay with the consequences of going against the tide?

Modern Japanese lingerie from Ravijour

I’m not saying all this to evoke sympathy. My self-chosen career is awesome, and I love it. And I feel like TLA is in a unique position to discuss issues and topics and points of view that would otherwise never make an appearance in the larger lingerie conversation. But ironically, that’s also what makes things difficult. In the larger fashion and beauty blogging worlds (which I see the lingerie blogosphere as being adjacent to, if not a part of), there are more people talking about these concepts, offering a range of opinions and experiences. But lingerie blogging hasn’t made it there yet. I hope it does one day.

I almost feel like I’m leaving this article unconcluded. I wish there was some strong, decisive statement I could make at the end here, but I don’t have one. I’m distressed that “geisha” archetypes seem to be having a revival in intimate apparel. I’m worried that other brands will see Marlies Dekkers’ and Bordelle’s latest campaigns as a good thing, and begin including East Asian stereotypes in their own collections. I’m concerned this article will put me even more on the fringes of intimate apparel, but that’s also an outcome I’m prepared to accept. And I’m bothered at the notion, which I’m still working through, that there’s no way to have a fashion business that is also a feminist business.

Original Content Provided by The Lingerie Addict

49 Comments

  1. Manoela says:

    June 28, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    I love this article. Love it, even if you think it’s not complete (I know the feeling).
    I am not Asian but Latin, and know how bad it is when my culture is sexualized, so I felt that although this was not directly to my culture, I can relate to it.
    One brand that I think did a nice job on using the culture as just an inspiration was Karolina Laskowska with her kimono fabrics and Asian models. Really good and a prove that you can get inspiration without being disrespectful.

    Reply

  2. Manoela says:

    June 28, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    I love this article. Love it, even if you think it’s not complete (I know the feeling).
    I am not Asian but Latin, and know how bad it is when my culture is sexualized, so I felt that although this was not directly to my culture, I can relate to it.
    One brand that I think did a nice job on using the culture as just an inspiration was Karolina Laskowska with her kimono fabrics and Asian models. Really good and a prove that you can get inspiration without being disrespectful.

    Reply

  3. c l bigelow

    Manoela says:

    June 28, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    I love this article. Love it, even if you think it’s not complete (I know the feeling).
    I am not Asian but Latin, and know how bad it is when my culture is sexualized, so I felt that although this was not directly to my culture, I can relate to it.
    One brand that I think did a nice job on using the culture as just an inspiration was Karolina Laskowska with her kimono fabrics and Asian models. Really good and a prove that you can get inspiration without being disrespectful.

    Reply

  4. Cora says:

    June 28, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Right, the sexualization and exotification of the “other” is definitely something many post-colonial cultures have in common, and I’m glad you mentioned it here.

    Reply

  5. c l bigelow says:

    June 28, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    cora i disagree with your last bit of leaving the post unmoored.
    in the contrary .
    you stated your position quite well – as a person taking offense and as a business owner-
    you do have to walk a tight rope at times because you are so visible- but that also gives you the power of allowing everyone to see your strength and integrity in both roles.
    the world is far from perfect, if we do not call out the fools nothing will get better. for the business owner using the stolen touchstones putting that cultural appropriation out in the light and calling it what it is the best way to effect change, as hopefully the images will not elicit the projected sales.

    Reply

  6. Lynn L says:

    June 29, 2016 at 10:11 am

    Thank you for this article. As someone who is Asian and loves Asian cultures, I found Dekker’s advertising tacky and offensive. Dekker is a Dutch designer and part of me thinks that Europe is not as advanced as America is with calling out cultural appropriation. I lived in the Netherlands in 80’s as a child and faced so much racism there, that part of me is not surprised Dekkers would think offensive geisha imagery is okay. I just hope she gets some poor sales but the pessimistic, child in the 80’s side of me still thinks that most Europeans, not all, are okay with this grotesque imagery. I hope I’m wrong.

    Reply

  7. Rebecca says:

    June 28, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Articles like these are much appreciated and always interesting precisely because they go against the tide; few people are discussing it.
    The snaps you’ve provided seem to indicate the brands are going for an amalgamation of the strappy-cutout-harness trends and geisha. I’m white and American, so stereotypes about Asian women from my perspective are something along the lines of: delicate, ultra-femme, light, floral, secretive, exotic, etc. Perhaps the geisha theme is their way of marketing a product as all of those things, somewhat lessening the aesthetic harshness of recent designs and trends that create a more aggressive and independent-minded atmosphere.
    Plus when big names are putting out rehashed exotic garbage, I haven’t noticed a lot of drawing from Latin America or Africa (too brown and a load of other myopic reasons they don’t fit their ‘criteria’ for beauty and fashion), so I figure Asia is kind of their default if they really want to scream “THIS IS FEMININE AND SEDUCTIVE!”

    Reply

  8. Rebecca says:

    June 28, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Articles like these are much appreciated and always interesting precisely because they go against the tide; few people are discussing it.
    The snaps you’ve provided seem to indicate the brands are going for an amalgamation of the strappy-cutout-harness trends and geisha. I’m white and American, so stereotypes about Asian women from my perspective are something along the lines of: delicate, ultra-femme, light, floral, secretive, exotic, etc. Perhaps the geisha theme is their way of marketing a product as all of those things, somewhat lessening the aesthetic harshness of recent designs and trends that create a more aggressive and independent-minded atmosphere.
    Plus when big names are putting out rehashed exotic garbage, I haven’t noticed a lot of drawing from Latin America or Africa (too brown and a load of other myopic reasons they don’t fit their ‘criteria’ for beauty and fashion), so I figure Asia is kind of their default if they really want to scream “THIS IS FEMININE AND SEDUCTIVE!”

    Reply

  9. Rebecca says:

    June 28, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Articles like these are much appreciated and always interesting precisely because they go against the tide; few people are discussing it.
    The snaps you’ve provided seem to indicate the brands are going for an amalgamation of the strappy-cutout-harness trends and geisha. I’m white and American, so stereotypes about Asian women from my perspective are something along the lines of: delicate, ultra-femme, light, floral, secretive, exotic, etc. Perhaps the geisha theme is their way of marketing a product as all of those things, somewhat lessening the aesthetic harshness of recent designs and trends that create a more aggressive and independent-minded atmosphere.
    Plus when big names are putting out rehashed exotic garbage, I haven’t noticed a lot of drawing from Latin America or Africa (too brown and a load of other myopic reasons they don’t fit their ‘criteria’ for beauty and fashion), so I figure Asia is kind of their default if they really want to scream “THIS IS FEMININE AND SEDUCTIVE!”

    Reply

  10. Cora says:

    June 28, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    This is an excellent point regarding the cultural shorthand that’s part and parcel of these depictions, and I’m glad you made that relationship so explicit here. And also a great point regarding how proximity to the ideal aesthetic (which yes, involves light skin) is wrapped up in these decisions as well.

    Reply

  11. Lee Rivers says:

    June 28, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    I think what you can do and have done for issues like this is highlight brands and things that do good things about Asian lingerie, too. See your pictures of Ravijour and Wacoal, and previously highlighting Pillowbook. I’d suggest talking to Irene at Pillowbook, too, for why she thinks these trends may have come up again.

    Reply

  12. Cora says:

    June 28, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    That’s a great suggestion. We’ve spoken on Twitter about this topic, but not formally in the context of a blog post. Thanks for bringing it up.

    Reply

  13. Girl and Lingerie

    D says:

    June 28, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Thank god. Very good article.
    I was speechless at the Bordelle collection. I love Bordelle, I love their collection but there was 0 justification for that lookbook.
    Same with Marlies…there is no justification for that makeup and hair.
    Plus after the blacklash on VS….they should know better.

    Reply

  14. Diane Q says:

    June 28, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    As a white person who is heavily interested both in lingerie and Japanese textiles, this sort of thing pains me so much. I know my opinion here isn’t particularly valid compared to the folks this is directly impacting, but it’s so frustrating to see an intersection of two things I love that could have had so much potential be yet again reduced to tacky, fetishistic, racist claptrap.
    I’ve been studying kimono and Japanese textiles for well over a decade, and even now when I mention it in certain circles, I get the (pardon the hideously racist quote that’s about to show up) “sexy geesha me so horny” bullshit. I can’t imagine how hurtful and demeaning that must be to Japanese women, and other Asian women who those sorts of people tend to view as “all the same thing anyway.”
    There are so many ways to do a Geisha-influenced collection that don’t rely on yellowface and racist tropes, and yet time and time again we see these companies who claim to be forward-thinking and mold-breaking doing the exact same crap.
    From working with actual Asian designers and models to incorporating simple silhouettes using fabric inspired by real vintage textiles and traditional embroidery methods; luxurious robes that cover up but feel decadent; interesting finishes and fabrics; there are so many things I’d love to see… Instead we get chopsticks and bad wigs. Again.
    And if I’ve said anything inadvertently offensive here, please do let me know. Like I said, I’m a privileged white blob sticking my toes where some folks feel they don’t belong, but I’ve been doing my damnedest to do it respectfully.

    Reply

  15. Diane Q says:

    June 28, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    As a white person who is heavily interested both in lingerie and Japanese textiles, this sort of thing pains me so much. I know my opinion here isn’t particularly valid compared to the folks this is directly impacting, but it’s so frustrating to see an intersection of two things I love that could have had so much potential be yet again reduced to tacky, fetishistic, racist claptrap.
    I’ve been studying kimono and Japanese textiles for well over a decade, and even now when I mention it in certain circles, I get the (pardon the hideously racist quote that’s about to show up) “sexy geesha me so horny” bullshit. I can’t imagine how hurtful and demeaning that must be to Japanese women, and other Asian women who those sorts of people tend to view as “all the same thing anyway.”
    There are so many ways to do a Geisha-influenced collection that don’t rely on yellowface and racist tropes, and yet time and time again we see these companies who claim to be forward-thinking and mold-breaking doing the exact same crap.
    From working with actual Asian designers and models to incorporating simple silhouettes using fabric inspired by real vintage textiles and traditional embroidery methods; luxurious robes that cover up but feel decadent; interesting finishes and fabrics; there are so many things I’d love to see… Instead we get chopsticks and bad wigs. Again.
    And if I’ve said anything inadvertently offensive here, please do let me know. Like I said, I’m a privileged white blob sticking my toes where some folks feel they don’t belong, but I’ve been doing my damnedest to do it respectfully.

    Reply

  16. Diane Q says:

    June 28, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    As a white person who is heavily interested both in lingerie and Japanese textiles, this sort of thing pains me so much. I know my opinion here isn’t particularly valid compared to the folks this is directly impacting, but it’s so frustrating to see an intersection of two things I love that could have had so much potential be yet again reduced to tacky, fetishistic, racist claptrap.
    I’ve been studying kimono and Japanese textiles for well over a decade, and even now when I mention it in certain circles, I get the (pardon the hideously racist quote that’s about to show up) “sexy geesha me so horny” bullshit. I can’t imagine how hurtful and demeaning that must be to Japanese women, and other Asian women who those sorts of people tend to view as “all the same thing anyway.”
    There are so many ways to do a Geisha-influenced collection that don’t rely on yellowface and racist tropes, and yet time and time again we see these companies who claim to be forward-thinking and mold-breaking doing the exact same crap.
    From working with actual Asian designers and models to incorporating simple silhouettes using fabric inspired by real vintage textiles and traditional embroidery methods; luxurious robes that cover up but feel decadent; interesting finishes and fabrics; there are so many things I’d love to see… Instead we get chopsticks and bad wigs. Again.
    And if I’ve said anything inadvertently offensive here, please do let me know. Like I said, I’m a privileged white blob sticking my toes where some folks feel they don’t belong, but I’ve been doing my damnedest to do it respectfully.

    Reply

  17. Diane Q says:

    June 28, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    As a white person who is heavily interested both in lingerie and Japanese textiles, this sort of thing pains me so much. I know my opinion here isn’t particularly valid compared to the folks this is directly impacting, but it’s so frustrating to see an intersection of two things I love that could have had so much potential be yet again reduced to tacky, fetishistic, racist claptrap.
    I’ve been studying kimono and Japanese textiles for well over a decade, and even now when I mention it in certain circles, I get the (pardon the hideously racist quote that’s about to show up) “sexy geesha me so horny” bullshit. I can’t imagine how hurtful and demeaning that must be to Japanese women, and other Asian women who those sorts of people tend to view as “all the same thing anyway.”
    There are so many ways to do a Geisha-influenced collection that don’t rely on yellowface and racist tropes, and yet time and time again we see these companies who claim to be forward-thinking and mold-breaking doing the exact same crap.
    From working with actual Asian designers and models to incorporating simple silhouettes using fabric inspired by real vintage textiles and traditional embroidery methods; luxurious robes that cover up but feel decadent; interesting finishes and fabrics; there are so many things I’d love to see… Instead we get chopsticks and bad wigs. Again.
    And if I’ve said anything inadvertently offensive here, please do let me know. Like I said, I’m a privileged white blob sticking my toes where some folks feel they don’t belong, but I’ve been doing my damnedest to do it respectfully.

    Reply

  18. Girl and Lingerie

    Diane Q says:

    June 28, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    As a white person who is heavily interested both in lingerie and Japanese textiles, this sort of thing pains me so much. I know my opinion here isn’t particularly valid compared to the folks this is directly impacting, but it’s so frustrating to see an intersection of two things I love that could have had so much potential be yet again reduced to tacky, fetishistic, racist claptrap.
    I’ve been studying kimono and Japanese textiles for well over a decade, and even now when I mention it in certain circles, I get the (pardon the hideously racist quote that’s about to show up) “sexy geesha me so horny” bullshit. I can’t imagine how hurtful and demeaning that must be to Japanese women, and other Asian women who those sorts of people tend to view as “all the same thing anyway.”
    There are so many ways to do a Geisha-influenced collection that don’t rely on yellowface and racist tropes, and yet time and time again we see these companies who claim to be forward-thinking and mold-breaking doing the exact same crap.
    From working with actual Asian designers and models to incorporating simple silhouettes using fabric inspired by real vintage textiles and traditional embroidery methods; luxurious robes that cover up but feel decadent; interesting finishes and fabrics; there are so many things I’d love to see… Instead we get chopsticks and bad wigs. Again.
    And if I’ve said anything inadvertently offensive here, please do let me know. Like I said, I’m a privileged white blob sticking my toes where some folks feel they don’t belong, but I’ve been doing my damnedest to do it respectfully.

    Reply

  19. Saffron says:

    June 28, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    It’s just pathetic to me that these designers claim to be “inspired” by japan when in fact they are only inspired by racist, sexist imperialism. When will western culture let go of madame butterfly and memoirs of a geisha?
    If they were so interested in japanese textile culture, they could have executed it in a 1000 different interesting and respectful ways. they could have used kyoto silks, shibori dye techniques, zakka-style embroidery… but no. same old creepy, cliché “geisha” nonsense.

    Reply

  20. Saffron says:

    June 28, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    It’s just pathetic to me that these designers claim to be “inspired” by japan when in fact they are only inspired by racist, sexist imperialism. When will western culture let go of madame butterfly and memoirs of a geisha?
    If they were so interested in japanese textile culture, they could have executed it in a 1000 different interesting and respectful ways. they could have used kyoto silks, shibori dye techniques, zakka-style embroidery… but no. same old creepy, cliché “geisha” nonsense.

    Reply

  21. lia says:

    June 28, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    I’m so glad you published this! I’m confused and disappointed in that company- was there no one questioning this at all? No one spoke up and said, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t fetishize, stereotype, and participate in yellowface?” Just because it’s a “positive” stereotype (Asian women are sexy and exotic) doesn’t mean it’s not as bad or damaging as a negative stereotype.
    Diane Q, Lee Rivers, and Manoela all had great examples or ideas of how other cultures can be respectfully incorporated without being racist. I don’t have much to say on this because it’s so mind boggling to me that it’s still happening.

    Reply

  22. Iris Sabrina

    lia says:

    June 28, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    I’m so glad you published this! I’m confused and disappointed in that company- was there no one questioning this at all? No one spoke up and said, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t fetishize, stereotype, and participate in yellowface?” Just because it’s a “positive” stereotype (Asian women are sexy and exotic) doesn’t mean it’s not as bad or damaging as a negative stereotype.
    Diane Q, Lee Rivers, and Manoela all had great examples or ideas of how other cultures can be respectfully incorporated without being racist. I don’t have much to say on this because it’s so mind boggling to me that it’s still happening.

    Reply

  23. Girl and Lingerie says:

    June 28, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    When I first reacted to this, I came from a “I’m personally hurt by this” viewpoint, but stepping back I wonder if there isn’t more. I’m unsure and probably not good at articulating this, my thoughts are not so clear yet. But I have been wondering about how this trend ties to anti-blackness?
    In that (and I’m not knowledgeable enough to be sure) but it seems to me that high-end, luxury brands tend to appropriate a lot from East Asian cultures, then South Asian, then maybe Middle Eastern, or Latinx… As though there were a hierarchy. Cultural appropriation is never good, but who they chose to appropriate from may be telling.
    I wonder if it’s because the stereotypes against East Asian women and Black women, especially in America, are depicted as being opposites. I wonder if high-end brands chose to commodify Asian women because their “exotism” is painted as less threatening, (model minority rather than yellow peril), more restrained/refined, a more palatable “flavor of the day” for the rich to upper middle class they are marketing towards. It reminds me of the way the model minority myth is used to fuel anti-blackness, by creating division and contrast?
    I was just thinking about this because in the country I live in, I can see many “tribal” inspired collections, printed words in AAV style, models with braided hair, and so on, in brands marketed towards younger people, in fast fashion, H&M or VS style brands, but the more expensive it gets, the more it limits the variety of cultures it steals from, to the ones that are most evocative of upper class white orientalism
    But I would not want to talk over anyone by saying this!

    Reply

  24. Girl and Lingerie says:

    June 28, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    When I first reacted to this, I came from a “I’m personally hurt by this” viewpoint, but stepping back I wonder if there isn’t more. I’m unsure and probably not good at articulating this, my thoughts are not so clear yet. But I have been wondering about how this trend ties to anti-blackness?
    In that (and I’m not knowledgeable enough to be sure) but it seems to me that high-end, luxury brands tend to appropriate a lot from East Asian cultures, then South Asian, then maybe Middle Eastern, or Latinx… As though there were a hierarchy. Cultural appropriation is never good, but who they chose to appropriate from may be telling.
    I wonder if it’s because the stereotypes against East Asian women and Black women, especially in America, are depicted as being opposites. I wonder if high-end brands chose to commodify Asian women because their “exotism” is painted as less threatening, (model minority rather than yellow peril), more restrained/refined, a more palatable “flavor of the day” for the rich to upper middle class they are marketing towards. It reminds me of the way the model minority myth is used to fuel anti-blackness, by creating division and contrast?
    I was just thinking about this because in the country I live in, I can see many “tribal” inspired collections, printed words in AAV style, models with braided hair, and so on, in brands marketed towards younger people, in fast fashion, H&M or VS style brands, but the more expensive it gets, the more it limits the variety of cultures it steals from, to the ones that are most evocative of upper class white orientalism
    But I would not want to talk over anyone by saying this!

    Reply

  25. Girl and Lingerie says:

    June 28, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    When I first reacted to this, I came from a “I’m personally hurt by this” viewpoint, but stepping back I wonder if there isn’t more. I’m unsure and probably not good at articulating this, my thoughts are not so clear yet. But I have been wondering about how this trend ties to anti-blackness?
    In that (and I’m not knowledgeable enough to be sure) but it seems to me that high-end, luxury brands tend to appropriate a lot from East Asian cultures, then South Asian, then maybe Middle Eastern, or Latinx… As though there were a hierarchy. Cultural appropriation is never good, but who they chose to appropriate from may be telling.
    I wonder if it’s because the stereotypes against East Asian women and Black women, especially in America, are depicted as being opposites. I wonder if high-end brands chose to commodify Asian women because their “exotism” is painted as less threatening, (model minority rather than yellow peril), more restrained/refined, a more palatable “flavor of the day” for the rich to upper middle class they are marketing towards. It reminds me of the way the model minority myth is used to fuel anti-blackness, by creating division and contrast?
    I was just thinking about this because in the country I live in, I can see many “tribal” inspired collections, printed words in AAV style, models with braided hair, and so on, in brands marketed towards younger people, in fast fashion, H&M or VS style brands, but the more expensive it gets, the more it limits the variety of cultures it steals from, to the ones that are most evocative of upper class white orientalism
    But I would not want to talk over anyone by saying this!

    Reply

  26. Girl and Lingerie says:

    June 28, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    When I first reacted to this, I came from a “I’m personally hurt by this” viewpoint, but stepping back I wonder if there isn’t more. I’m unsure and probably not good at articulating this, my thoughts are not so clear yet. But I have been wondering about how this trend ties to anti-blackness?
    In that (and I’m not knowledgeable enough to be sure) but it seems to me that high-end, luxury brands tend to appropriate a lot from East Asian cultures, then South Asian, then maybe Middle Eastern, or Latinx… As though there were a hierarchy. Cultural appropriation is never good, but who they chose to appropriate from may be telling.
    I wonder if it’s because the stereotypes against East Asian women and Black women, especially in America, are depicted as being opposites. I wonder if high-end brands chose to commodify Asian women because their “exotism” is painted as less threatening, (model minority rather than yellow peril), more restrained/refined, a more palatable “flavor of the day” for the rich to upper middle class they are marketing towards. It reminds me of the way the model minority myth is used to fuel anti-blackness, by creating division and contrast?
    I was just thinking about this because in the country I live in, I can see many “tribal” inspired collections, printed words in AAV style, models with braided hair, and so on, in brands marketed towards younger people, in fast fashion, H&M or VS style brands, but the more expensive it gets, the more it limits the variety of cultures it steals from, to the ones that are most evocative of upper class white orientalism
    But I would not want to talk over anyone by saying this!

    Reply

  27. May Takahashi

    Robin says:

    June 29, 2016 at 2:20 am

    1 side thought, to an overall very valuable discussion. As we are referring to “higher end” brands (vs a V’s S, Macys, Target, etc)… there is a very large financial stereotype at play, layered on top of the color & heritage. I see it playing on what you said, “high-end brands chose to commodify Asian women” but also pertaining to PERCEIVED disposable income to spend in the luxury fashion market. ALL news re: the LUX fashion business is centered on China, and now recently Japan. I can’t think of the last time island nations, Africa, Spain, or dozens of other countries were portrayed in such a glamorous time of wealth. I’m not saying these “designs” are meant for the Asian audience, but rather they are meant for mis-informed American audience that hears all about Asian wealth (so high apparently the gov’t has to tone down conspicuous consumption) and therefore sees the horrible stereotypes as aspirational.
    I too still find it odd that no moral lesson was learned by the cheap fast fashion campaign of V’sS. Sad, as I love lingerie, to now wonder if the brands I do support will head that direction- and disappoint me.
    Appreciate the honesty of this rational discussion, and to hear from all viewpoints.

    Reply

  28. Patrizia Grilli

    Robin says:

    June 29, 2016 at 2:20 am

    1 side thought, to an overall very valuable discussion. As we are referring to “higher end” brands (vs a V’s S, Macys, Target, etc)… there is a very large financial stereotype at play, layered on top of the color & heritage. I see it playing on what you said, “high-end brands chose to commodify Asian women” but also pertaining to PERCEIVED disposable income to spend in the luxury fashion market. ALL news re: the LUX fashion business is centered on China, and now recently Japan. I can’t think of the last time island nations, Africa, Spain, or dozens of other countries were portrayed in such a glamorous time of wealth. I’m not saying these “designs” are meant for the Asian audience, but rather they are meant for mis-informed American audience that hears all about Asian wealth (so high apparently the gov’t has to tone down conspicuous consumption) and therefore sees the horrible stereotypes as aspirational.
    I too still find it odd that no moral lesson was learned by the cheap fast fashion campaign of V’sS. Sad, as I love lingerie, to now wonder if the brands I do support will head that direction- and disappoint me.
    Appreciate the honesty of this rational discussion, and to hear from all viewpoints.

    Reply

  29. Alison says:

    July 4, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Interesting angle. Especially when you consider how historic it is. As soon as trade routes opened up with the East, items from and influenced by the culture became a mark of wealth and (superficial) cultural awareness throughout Europe. So for a lux brand that’s a long background association with affluence.

    Reply

  30. Patrizia Grilli

    Rebecca says:

    June 28, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    A: Thanks for actually publishing this, and saying what needed to be said! B: It’s interesting, in a twisted sort of way, to compare Bordelle with Marlies Dekkers here. Bordelle put out what looks like a fairly standard collection, combining a nice lace with strappy details. Nothing about this collection screams “Japanese” to me, but for some reason Bordelle decided to slap some “geisha-inspired” marketing on it. This is the same trick they pulled last season with their “Frida Kahlo-inspired” campaign, and the season before with their “Oriental” campaign.
    Marlies Dekkers, on the other hand, went for all-out borderline-cartoon-y “geisha” design and styling. As is frequently the case with this type of cultural appropriation/racism, the end result looks costume-y and just plain tacky. I cannot imagine any fashion-forward consumer buying into something that basic, even if they WERE OK with the racism.
    Bottom line: I understand what Bordelle is doing here. It’s quite disturbing, but it’s sadly also something that might work for them as a brand. Marlies Dekkers, on the other hand, has gone off the deep end. I hope this goes as badly for them as I think it will.

    Reply

  31. Kawai says:

    June 29, 2016 at 1:12 am

    Thank you so much for bringing up this issue, Cora.
    I agree with Girl and Lingerie in that racial stereotypes are tied to classism – I think there is a lot that could be written about different colonial relationships and geopolitics today (e.g., China’s economic growth and growing political power) but I would add that gender is an important dimension too. You don’t see E Asian men being fetishized as desirable sexual objects like this by white people.
    Why this might be happening now? I don’t think the “geisha” stereotype ever went away in pop culture to be honest. E Asian women are heavily fetishized sexually in a way other ethnicities are not. On OK Cupid, Asian women became the most desirable race in 2014, even more than white women (http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/race-attraction-2009-2014/). Because lingerie is related to sexual attraction, I’m not the least bit surprized that E. Asian culture is appropriated from heavily. Also, when it comes to sexuality, I do think people feel like they have more of a license to be racist. What Dekkers did would NEVER fly in the fashion industry today. But interrogation into sexual desire, especially when it comes to race, is something many people would rather resist.

    Reply

  32. Kawai says:

    June 29, 2016 at 1:12 am

    Thank you so much for bringing up this issue, Cora.
    I agree with Girl and Lingerie in that racial stereotypes are tied to classism – I think there is a lot that could be written about different colonial relationships and geopolitics today (e.g., China’s economic growth and growing political power) but I would add that gender is an important dimension too. You don’t see E Asian men being fetishized as desirable sexual objects like this by white people.
    Why this might be happening now? I don’t think the “geisha” stereotype ever went away in pop culture to be honest. E Asian women are heavily fetishized sexually in a way other ethnicities are not. On OK Cupid, Asian women became the most desirable race in 2014, even more than white women (http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/race-attraction-2009-2014/). Because lingerie is related to sexual attraction, I’m not the least bit surprized that E. Asian culture is appropriated from heavily. Also, when it comes to sexuality, I do think people feel like they have more of a license to be racist. What Dekkers did would NEVER fly in the fashion industry today. But interrogation into sexual desire, especially when it comes to race, is something many people would rather resist.

    Reply

  33. Kawai says:

    June 29, 2016 at 1:12 am

    Thank you so much for bringing up this issue, Cora.
    I agree with Girl and Lingerie in that racial stereotypes are tied to classism – I think there is a lot that could be written about different colonial relationships and geopolitics today (e.g., China’s economic growth and growing political power) but I would add that gender is an important dimension too. You don’t see E Asian men being fetishized as desirable sexual objects like this by white people.
    Why this might be happening now? I don’t think the “geisha” stereotype ever went away in pop culture to be honest. E Asian women are heavily fetishized sexually in a way other ethnicities are not. On OK Cupid, Asian women became the most desirable race in 2014, even more than white women (http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/race-attraction-2009-2014/). Because lingerie is related to sexual attraction, I’m not the least bit surprized that E. Asian culture is appropriated from heavily. Also, when it comes to sexuality, I do think people feel like they have more of a license to be racist. What Dekkers did would NEVER fly in the fashion industry today. But interrogation into sexual desire, especially when it comes to race, is something many people would rather resist.

    Reply

  34. Patrizia Grilli

    Girl and Lingerie says:

    June 30, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    What you say about gender seems (to me) to tie into Edward Said’s theory of orientalism (ie. the”Orient” as being a mirror image of the West, in which the West is masculine, rational, and progressive, and the “Orient” is feminine, irrational and backwards, and something to be conquered/possessed).
    I’m not sure, but I think that that (and also the events of WW2 and Vietnam and the american military) would certainly play a role in the differences between how Asian men and women are perceived!
    (Although the more recent trends in Korean pop culture has cause some cringe-worthy fetichization of Korean men…)
    And yeah I totally agree about how mixing sexual attraction in makes things complicated. Just trying to articulate “sexualizing Asian women is bad” with “there’s nothing wrong with being sexual” is complicated enough! It’s hard to articulate how I believe lingerie isn’t inherently sexual, and yet claim that Marlies Dekkers collection sexualizes Asian women… If you add people’s fantasies and “personal preferences” into that… it gets messy!

    Reply

  35. Girl and Lingerie says:

    June 30, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    What you say about gender seems (to me) to tie into Edward Said’s theory of orientalism (ie. the”Orient” as being a mirror image of the West, in which the West is masculine, rational, and progressive, and the “Orient” is feminine, irrational and backwards, and something to be conquered/possessed).
    I’m not sure, but I think that that (and also the events of WW2 and Vietnam and the american military) would certainly play a role in the differences between how Asian men and women are perceived!
    (Although the more recent trends in Korean pop culture has cause some cringe-worthy fetichization of Korean men…)
    And yeah I totally agree about how mixing sexual attraction in makes things complicated. Just trying to articulate “sexualizing Asian women is bad” with “there’s nothing wrong with being sexual” is complicated enough! It’s hard to articulate how I believe lingerie isn’t inherently sexual, and yet claim that Marlies Dekkers collection sexualizes Asian women… If you add people’s fantasies and “personal preferences” into that… it gets messy!

    Reply

  36. Kawai says:

    July 10, 2016 at 9:24 am

    History, colonialism and past wars have exerted a huge influence over racialized gender stereotypes and I definitely think Vietnam is a part of that, e.g., Miss Saigon. And I agree, lingerie isn’t inherently sexual. Maybe we could say the lingerie itself isn’t necessary sexual, but the marketing is using sexual stereotypes.
    As for resistance toward examining sexual attraction – I think a part of that resistance is simply a fear of being accused of racism. Some people also wish to believe that sex is purely instinctual and “natural” and acknowledging historical/social contexts play a significant role in sexual expression could upend some deeply held beliefs about human sexuality. The “natural” argument afterall, has been used to justify any number of spurious claims about sexuality including the idea that women are naturally monogamous/men are naturally philanderers.

    Reply

  37. Katie White

    Kawai says:

    July 10, 2016 at 9:24 am

    History, colonialism and past wars have exerted a huge influence over racialized gender stereotypes and I definitely think Vietnam is a part of that, e.g., Miss Saigon. And I agree, lingerie isn’t inherently sexual. Maybe we could say the lingerie itself isn’t necessary sexual, but the marketing is using sexual stereotypes.
    As for resistance toward examining sexual attraction – I think a part of that resistance is simply a fear of being accused of racism. Some people also wish to believe that sex is purely instinctual and “natural” and acknowledging historical/social contexts play a significant role in sexual expression could upend some deeply held beliefs about human sexuality. The “natural” argument afterall, has been used to justify any number of spurious claims about sexuality including the idea that women are naturally monogamous/men are naturally philanderers.

    Reply

  38. Paulette says:

    June 29, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Do they even know what a “Geisha” is?
    I think they don’t and I agree with Saffron, this is almost racist, a joke, not an inspiration.
    Shame on them!

    Reply

  39. Patrizia Grilli

    Robin says:

    June 29, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    I agree with you, that the brands are hijacking a recognizable word and using it to suggest “entertainment” that is not Geisha tradition. From my limited knowledge of history, I’ve never seen Geisha showing skin in strappy anything, The top 2 photos at top on this page are highly American- with the huge focus on big boobs.
    I certainly hope they are not selling headpieces and white face makeup with the weird lingerie… just creepy & so costume-y that I dont see it mainstream unless an at-home Halloween campaign.

    Reply

  40. Iris Sabrina says:

    June 29, 2016 at 11:38 am

    I don’t know why stereotyping and appropriation are such a big thing in the fashion world. If designers find that it’s so beautiful, why can’t these brands at the very least use models from the same country/culture that they’re “inspired” by? I recently saw a lingerie line that was very obviously inspired by Frida Kahlo’s style/artwork…and yet I don’t think any of the models were actually Mexican. It implies that we and our taste in colors and our patterns and our art are simply a costume that can be put on when convenient and taken off when not. I get the appreciation of it, just as I appreciate the style of other cultures, but as Diane Q mentioned in this thread, there’s a right way to show it and there’s a wrong way.

    Reply

  41. Diana says:

    June 29, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Cora, what do you think of the Olivia Von Halle collection that drew inspiration from early 20th century China and used Chinese models?
    As a consumer, I find the images from Marlies Dekkers very campy and cheap. I’m not inspired by it. However, I found the OVH campaign to be more well done, beautiful and inspiring to the consumer eye. I would love to hear your opinion comparing the two and whether or not there are political undertones in the OVH campaign.

    Reply

  42. Diana says:

    June 29, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Cora, what do you think of the Olivia Von Halle collection that drew inspiration from early 20th century China and used Chinese models?
    As a consumer, I find the images from Marlies Dekkers very campy and cheap. I’m not inspired by it. However, I found the OVH campaign to be more well done, beautiful and inspiring to the consumer eye. I would love to hear your opinion comparing the two and whether or not there are political undertones in the OVH campaign.

    Reply

  43. Patrizia Grilli

    Sarah says:

    June 30, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Cora, you are a wonderful, sensitive person. The fact that you spend so much time thinking about what you post, to me at least, is so important. I think most readers would agree that we’re all better off for hearing the voices of the TLA team. You remind us to slow down and notice what’s going on around us, be it negative marketing, lack of diversity, limited sizes, etc.
    I think everyone else here has chastised the companies you mentioned quite soundly; I hope the brands see this post and rethink their future marketing. I did see the Bordelle campaign and was a little taken aback, but couldn’t place why at the time. Aside from the racism, it’s tastefully shot and polished-looking. That may be why I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me, unlike the Marlies Dekkers images which slap you in the face.
    To Girl and Lingerie- your comments in the article connected to the frustration I feel in this situation as a woman of Asian descent. I was reading your quote aloud to a friend and my voice broke near the end. I’ll definitely be following your blogging. The fact that we’re even having this conversation is reassuring to me, and a step in the right direction. Keep being awesome and maybe, together, we can all be a force for positive change.

    Reply

  44. Sarah says:

    June 30, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Cora, you are a wonderful, sensitive person. The fact that you spend so much time thinking about what you post, to me at least, is so important. I think most readers would agree that we’re all better off for hearing the voices of the TLA team. You remind us to slow down and notice what’s going on around us, be it negative marketing, lack of diversity, limited sizes, etc.
    I think everyone else here has chastised the companies you mentioned quite soundly; I hope the brands see this post and rethink their future marketing. I did see the Bordelle campaign and was a little taken aback, but couldn’t place why at the time. Aside from the racism, it’s tastefully shot and polished-looking. That may be why I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me, unlike the Marlies Dekkers images which slap you in the face.
    To Girl and Lingerie- your comments in the article connected to the frustration I feel in this situation as a woman of Asian descent. I was reading your quote aloud to a friend and my voice broke near the end. I’ll definitely be following your blogging. The fact that we’re even having this conversation is reassuring to me, and a step in the right direction. Keep being awesome and maybe, together, we can all be a force for positive change.

    Reply

  45. Sarah says:

    June 30, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Cora, you are a wonderful, sensitive person. The fact that you spend so much time thinking about what you post, to me at least, is so important. I think most readers would agree that we’re all better off for hearing the voices of the TLA team. You remind us to slow down and notice what’s going on around us, be it negative marketing, lack of diversity, limited sizes, etc.
    I think everyone else here has chastised the companies you mentioned quite soundly; I hope the brands see this post and rethink their future marketing. I did see the Bordelle campaign and was a little taken aback, but couldn’t place why at the time. Aside from the racism, it’s tastefully shot and polished-looking. That may be why I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me, unlike the Marlies Dekkers images which slap you in the face.
    To Girl and Lingerie- your comments in the article connected to the frustration I feel in this situation as a woman of Asian descent. I was reading your quote aloud to a friend and my voice broke near the end. I’ll definitely be following your blogging. The fact that we’re even having this conversation is reassuring to me, and a step in the right direction. Keep being awesome and maybe, together, we can all be a force for positive change.

    Reply

  46. Marlies Dekkers Still Doesn’t Get It: yellowface is not a trend. | write me bad checks

    Ae says:

    June 30, 2016 at 5:43 am

    I’m glad you decided to publish the article. I find cultural appropriation a tricky topic because at what point is it admiration and at what point is it appropriation? However, I’m talking about actions like incorporating a print that evokes another culture to make a fusion creation which is marketed without stereotypical references to the ‘foreign’ culture. What you’ve highlighted is so obviously wrong, I’m inclined to ask, in the words of John Oliver talking about Hollywood use of white actors for Native American roles: “How is this still a thing?”
    I’d love a follow-up of brands that are able to use cross-cultural inspiration appropriately.

    Reply

  47. Marlies Dekkers/Guerrilla Geisha/et al Still Don’t Get It: yellowface is not a trend. | write me bad checks

    Ae says:

    June 30, 2016 at 5:43 am

    I’m glad you decided to publish the article. I find cultural appropriation a tricky topic because at what point is it admiration and at what point is it appropriation? However, I’m talking about actions like incorporating a print that evokes another culture to make a fusion creation which is marketed without stereotypical references to the ‘foreign’ culture. What you’ve highlighted is so obviously wrong, I’m inclined to ask, in the words of John Oliver talking about Hollywood use of white actors for Native American roles: “How is this still a thing?”
    I’d love a follow-up of brands that are able to use cross-cultural inspiration appropriately.

    Reply

  48. Gemma Alexander

    Brooke says:

    June 30, 2016 at 11:52 am

    Even though it can be risky, i think it is imperative that you continue to post what may be unpopular opinions. The depth and breadth of the lingerie posting on this blog is what sets it apart. The diversity and thoughtfulness of Lingerie Addict posts serves to dismantle the idea that lingerie is only about sex. This blog is a window into the world through lingerie. I have learned so much through this blog, not just about lingerie, but about business, economics, and many communities that i don’t belong to. What i have learned has become valuable in my life. Please keep posting, and keep posting pieces like this. It is important work, and you’re making a difference . Thank you.

    Reply

  49. May Takahashi says:

    June 30, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    Being an Asian American woman and having felt the psychological, physical, spiritual and collective damages of racist sexualization and its polar opposite – invisibility – I can’t express how much I appreciate this post. Yes, you are writing from the platform of lingerie (like, it’s just lingerie, right?), but you draw the connections to the much larger and invasive contexts at play. You get it and I’ve seen you get it in so many ways. How you strive to push for radical notions (freedom!) within a conservative industry – I applaud you hard and want you to know, as someone who works within the industry, you’ve got an ally and kindred spirit in me. I also believe that your visibility and boundary pushing will help in drawing out a new generation of lingerie creators and those of us who have been waiting for them. It’s already happening.

    Reply

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