Adding to the long list of recent fashion label controversies, megabrand Dior has been accused of cultural appropriation (again) for their use of Native American imagery in advertisements promoting the new Sauvage fragrance.
It’s been a big year for scandals in the fashion industry. From the many woes of Victoria’s Secret to Versace’s recent angering of China, 2019 is shaping up to be a doozy for fashion PR. The latest controversy involves Dior’s fragrance Sauvage and their use of Native American imagery. And their use of the term “oriental” in the product’s description compounds the problem.
To start off, the promotional video for Sauvage Parfum features the brand’s spokesperson Johnny Depp, who has been a problematic face for the brand after he was accused of domestic violence by ex-wife Amber Heard. Dior’s continued use of him as their spokesperson has been a subject of heated discussion even before this latest row.
The new Sauvage fragrance called We are the Land is marketed as: “an authentic journey deep into the Native American soul in a sacred, founding and secular territory”.
Depp was adopted into the Comanche Nation before he played Tonto in The Lone Ranger back in 2012. However, some have questioned his true connection to Native American culture.
— MadDepphead (@maddepphead) August 28, 2019
It seems pretty distasteful for a huge, French multinational luxury brand to be making money off the cultural imagery of a persecuted group. This is particularly jarring when acknowledging that the perfume’s name “Sauvage” translates literally to “savage”, “wild” or “heathen”. Its clear to see why Native Americans might find this association offensive.
Dior describes the fragrance as, “a new, highly concentrated interpretation of Sauvage, melding extreme freshness with warm oriental tones and wild beauty that comes to life on the skin.”
Journalist Jeff Yang pointed out in a series of tweets that while “oriental” is commonly used as a name in scent making,
“the continued association of “oriental” sensory aesthetics with wildness, otherness, savagery and the alien exotic is, itself, rife with problems.”
Dior has responded to the controversy with a press release from Indigenous advocacy organisation Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), stating that the brand conducted research with the organisation before beginning the campaign. Dior reportedly made sure that the dancer in the film, Canku Thomas One Star, has proven ties to Native American heritage.
Where the issues lie, however, are with the way in which the product is being marketed. The language used in the advertising for the perfume, from the title of the product to its descriptions and blurbs on social media posts, reeks of colonial fetishisation of Indigenous peoples.
In an Instagram post for the product, Dior captioned an image of Johnny Depp sitting beside a fire,
“Even wilder than before, Johnny Depp is at one with nature, reconnecting with a land where boundaries are made to be pushed.”
Clearly the brand is evoking negative well-worn stereotypes of Native American “wildness” in its marketing.
All of this comes after consumers accused Dior of cultural appropriation last year. In 2018 the brand cast known white person Jennifer Lawrence in a campaign that supposedly celebrated Mexican culture. Yikes.
Check out what Twitter users had to say about this latest controversy:
I cannot with @Dior exploiting native culture for their fragrance #sauvage… and yes that’s SAVAGE! What the FUCK?!? Y’all are disgusting! You mean to tell me that NOT ONE person in your company saw this as an issue through the tiresome ideation process?!?
— Shuga Cain (@MissShugaCain) August 30, 2019
#Dior is using a Native American dancing in traditional regalia to promote their "Sauvage" cologne. It's 2019.
We must ask ourselves. Why are there still so many ads using Anti-Native Slurs and exploiting Native Americans? pic.twitter.com/7XPOihVUa9
— Lucas Brown Eyes (@LucasBrownEyes) August 30, 2019
White ppl need to understand that it doesn’t matter if Native Americans participated in the ad. Dior is using our culture next to the word sauvage, profiting on our people and I guarantee you not a dime is going to us.
— BLM (@guccirights) August 31, 2019
"unspoiled expanses of wilderness"
$150 of parfum to smell like a settler asshole pic.twitter.com/wyx6bTrgqv
— حفظ المراتع (@PasturesPolitic) August 30, 2019
— ijotiKak (@ijotiKak) August 31, 2019
SInce the online backlash, Dior has pulled the campaign.
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