Looking for a R33 000 Basotho blanket? Well look no further than Louis Vuitton’s latest menswear collection. The famous French luxury brand premiered their Basotho Plaid menswear this week – just a few years after their first Basotho blanket-inspired collection – and the range is a hit.
Louis Vuitton South Africa confirmed this week that all the blankets are sold out in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The Vuitton range features a small cashmere and wool version of the Mountain Kingdom’s famous blankets, which have been used in sacred rituals for centuries. The Vuitton blanket references a blue and yellow version of a traditional Seanamarena design, with an exaggerated graphic maize cob and giraffe dominating the pattern. The blankets also include the yellow “wearing stripes” which traditionally designate the direction a blanket should be worn.
But South African designers are not happy.
“The sad part of the situation, for me, is that the African consumer would rather consume the Louis Vuitton version than support small businesses who are already offering the same products,” said designer Thabo Makheta this week.
Makheta, a Mosotho herself, regularly uses the blankets in her designs. “It’s unfortunate that a luxury European brand is preferred by those African consumers,” she says.
On the Louis Vuitton website, a model drapes the blanket over his arm, like a shawl. Vuitton says their blanket should “complete the look” of their “African theme” Spring/Summer 2017 men’s collection. In the campaign images the model wears a shirt featuring the same pattern that has been “tailored from fluid silk”, they say, adding that the “luxurious shirt features an abstract African blanket and giraffe design”.
Online audiences had a field day when the images of the pictures went viral, with accusations of cultural appropriation coming down on the brand.
“I feel like LV ‘plaid’ enough with our culture. Damn Culture Vultures,” said Dona Soprana on Instagram. Another Instagram user, going by the name Afro_Judee added, “Damn, I hate these mainstream brands. Wowza! No authenticity ... at all.”
But Makheta remains pragmatic about the situation. “Look, Prada once produced a paper clip with a price tag of $185 000, so it’s not surprising. So now I’m tired of getting offended from these things. Because so many Europeans have been taking inspiration from Africa, there is a growing support for locally produced items. But maybe it’s time for us to also pull up our socks, and then once we’ve done that we can argue with the consumer about buying the local product.