New York Fashion Week is a whirlwind of beautiful and daring visuals, but sometimes things move so fast that the origin of a design or look isn't recognized or discussed. What happens when a cultural symbol is reinvented for use on the runway? Who gets to tell the story?
Libertine, a very popular brand of the moment, had CND design all of the stunning nails for its presentation, but when I saw that CND had posted photos from the show on its Instagram, I was struck by something else: the hot pink center parts.
I immediately recognized the "hair look" as a variation of sindoor, or kumkum, a marking worn by millions of Indian women to indicate their marital status.
We have a few symbols to show whether we're attached or single here in America, but in India, and especially amongst Hindu practitioners, marital status is shown through many forms of adornment. Some regions have over 16 bridal adornments, including sindoor.
Sindoor Dana is a wedding tradition in which the groom sprinkles the bride’s hair parting with red powder to signify his protection and devotion.
This ritual is then performed daily by the bride for the length of the marriage; it's seen as a blessing of the union and is ceased upon the death of the husband.
The practice is very widespread in India, and is a common symbol of a married woman in Hindu, Jain, and Sikh cultures. Evidence of this practice dates back over 5,000 years and is said to incur the protection of the goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva, one of the primary goddesses of Hinduism.
Many Indian women living in the West practice this tradition daily. “As a mark of cultural and religious identity, symbols like sindoor often become that much more important to the individuals wearing them in a context in which they are a minority,” says Patton Burchett, assistant professor of religious studies (South Asian religions) at New York University.
While knowledge of foreign cultural practices and symbols may not be commonplace at Fashion Week, with the exchange of ideas, rather than rude questions or misguided borrowing, we can understand the meaning and beauty of different customs and achieve basic respect for the culture of others.
Libertine’s shows are always unique, but in cases such as these, it’s important that a discussion is had, that the history is shared.
Do I think the hot pink stripe looks "cool"? Yes, but not as cool as it would have looked if more South Asian or Indian models had been in the mix.
Insensitive people repeatedly ask Indian women wearing sindoor if their foreheads are bleeding, and this could be made obsolete by bringing up the history behind the practice, or by engaging members of this culture in the actual display.
So let's discuss it now.
- Had you heard of sindoor before reading this article?
- Does seeing this practice being used by a fashion brand make you feel some type of way?