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Blog: Matthew Williamson in trouble over Ethiopian designs

Designer Matthew Williamson has landed himself in hot water for using traditional Ethiopian dress designs as inspiration for his spring 08 dress designs.

The two designs in question have drawn anger from the Ethopian government which is looking at ways to try and protect its national costume from designers making money from what it sees as cultural icons.

Residents of the third-world country have also expressed concern saying it is disrespectful to make money from a national costume. Williamson's designs will cost hundreds of pounds, whereas Ethiopian produced versions would only be around £30 each.

However, a spokesperson for Williamson said the designer was only using the national costume for inspiration for the new collection and meant no disrespect by the designs.

This whole issue raises some valid points: should designers use national costumes or national icons in their collections? Is this really disrespectful to the culture in question or is it really a complement?

These is also another side to the debate. All creative people use something as inspiration. If we arrive at the point where we are not allowed to use anything anyone else has done for inspiration, we would not have much to use for new ideas or different ways to do things. Few designers can come up with something totally new each year without using a previous fashion or look for some form of inspiration.

What are your thoughts on the issue. Should designers be staying away from cultural icons and costumes as inspiration or are these designs fair game for some form of inspiration?

Click here to read more on this issue.

Readers' comments (2)

  • I wholeheartedly agree. Being an African myself, I believe that our traditional prints should not be exploited by designers. I work in the industry myself and love our traditional bold prints to see them being used to make extortionately priced garments will, to me, mean they will lose cultural feel and end up being more couture than traditional, being dressed up with ridiculous accessories.
    These garments are beautiful because they are unique. I have nothing against Matthew Williamson, I love his work, but these are not the type of styles I feel should be used for producing for the "Red Carpet/ Celeb Clientele"
    They are beautiful, unique & cultural.Not everything should be mass-produced.

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  • I beg to differ at the suggestion that Matthew Williamson is using Ethiopian/Eritrean clothing as "inspiration". To compare the traditional wear and this latest collection, differences are barely noticable.

    Why is that a problem?
    Mr. Williamson is replicating & cashing in on the traditional dress of a proud culture, receiving huge personal gain and publicity. Furthermore, these profits will be used for himself, & won't support of the country where he got the material, "telet" (the specific embroidery used) or embroidered cross (which also holds significance).

    It seems he doesn't understand that he has decontextualised cultural emblems for Western fashion, and many find this offensive.

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