BVLGARI Mangalsutra controversy: At 3,49,000 rupees, Italian luxury brand BVLGARI has bestowed India with its most expensive mangalsutra on the market. But that’s only part of the controversy that this ‘sacred’ ornament has got pulled into. Many are questioning how western brands indulge in the cultural appropriation by revamping desi things and then sell it back to the Indian customers as an “upgraded” or “better” or “luxury” version.
The BVLGARI mangalsutra recently made headlines after actor Priyanka Chopra shared it on her social media as she took over as one of the ambassadors of the brand. The actor wrote, “seeing it come to fruition is such a great feeling – it’s so elegant and chic, designed for the modern Indian woman who takes charge of her own life.” That itself is a big question mark because many of the modern Indian women have often called the mangalsutra a very patriarchal symbol of marriage. Even if one leaves the wearing and the interpretation of the mangalsutra to personal choice, BVLGARI’s interpretation of the ornament raises questions on why did we need an Italian brand to tell us how to make a mangalsutra chic or elegant?
The Cultural Aspect of Mangalsutra
Like so many western brands, BVLAGARI is simply making profits by appropriating culture of a third world country. Maybe in future, when the ornament is put on global market, the fascinated west would start treating mangalsutra as one of the many ‘statement pieces’ but I highly doubt they will be bothered to know about its origin.
BVLGARI is catering its mangalsutra to modern Indian women. But has the brand taken into consideration what these women think about the ornament, or the beliefs that it represents?
Doesn’t it seem like a dangerous course, eventually leading to erasure of important cultures and their understanding worldwide? Many women in India are not exactly a fan of wearing a necklace as a proof of their loyalty towards their husbands, but then there are many women who see it to be an important symbol of love. Is BVLGARI acknowledging this conflicted approach in the very pool that it is catering its product too?
Regular Kurti Made Into Premium Wear:
This isn’t the first time a western brand has faced accusations of repackaging an ethnic product and selling it as an exquisite merchandise. The embroidered Kaftan by Gucci also faced criticism for appropriating the South Asian kurta. One look at the design and structure of the clothing can make any South Asian say that it exactly looks like kurta/kameez that we buy from local shops, or even malls and wear it on day-to-day basis. The Gucci kaftan costs whopping 2.5 lakh rupees and is still displayed on the brand’s website even after facing widespread backlash.
A normal piece of clothing worn by South Asian women on a daily basis is not expected to cost that much. There are barely any South Asian designers selling the apparel at that cost. So this way, the western brand gets to earn more profits by selling a daily wear clothing than the South Asian designers and artisans. Isn’t it unfair?
Just what makes BVLGARI, a western brand, think that its version of mangalsutra is more elite or chic than the ones indigenously made?
Taking Inspiration Vs Cultural Appropriation:
Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and many other such global brands have time and again picked up from different cultures but they have hardly been able to credit the real artists behind the works. Hermes on the other hand was able to do some justice in the credit giving area. When they came out with Nehru jackets and saree style gowns, they shot their campaign in India with model Lakshmi Menon. They spoke of the techniques used in the collection and credited the Indian artisans for it. Sure the high cost of the clothes does not make it accessible to majority of Indians but it seems far better approach than simply stealing the art and monetising on it.
In 2021, the world has become fairly tight knit. The culture of one part of the world is being read and understood by the other. The mixture of cultures on the global scale can promote individuality, representation of different communities. If the big names in the fashion world are really inspired by the third world cultures, shouldn’t they work towards giving them recognistion instead of making it their own?
What is really exasperating about the practice of cultural appropriation by global fashion brands is the fact they pay no heed to the criticism of it. As if the people living those cultures have no right to express disagreements. As if once they take something from us, it ceases to be ours.
Views expressed by the author are their own.
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