At first glance, it looks bad. In the announcement that Dior tweeted today for its new fragrance, the camera revolves around a dramatic scene of a Native American dancer in full dress on top of a cliff, which appears to be a classic example of the type of cultural appropriation for which fashion brands have been flayed. To make matters worse, the clip cuts a black frame with the name of the perfume: Sauvage, a simple letter far removed from the epithet used by Europeans for the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
The online backlash was almost immediate. “Using indigenous people and our culture for your new fragrance aesthetic and feeling the urge to name it ‘Wild’ is a bad idea. Do better @Dior, ”wrote a Twitter user who identifies as Diné. It was among the smoothest takes. ” SAVAGE ? Oh my god, Dior, what are you doing? Read the room, you clods of colonialists ”, another person tweeted.
Dior has since deleted the post, but here’s a screenshot:
What complicates the situation is that Dior did try to read the play. The clip is a brief excerpt from a longer advertisement created by Dior to promote the new fragrance joining its Sauvage line. To do this, Dior worked with an indigenous peoples advocacy organization called Americans for Indian Opportunity. The collaboration highlights how difficult it has become for brands to use cultures that are not their own to sell products, even in cases where it directly involves people from those cultures.
A week ago, Dior posted a video on its YouTube channel about how the film sought to ensure that the portrayal of Indigenous peoples was accurate and respectful. In it, Ron Martinez Looking Elk, an artist from Isleta and Taos Pueblos in New Mexico, talks about the problem of stereotypical representations of Indigenous peoples and says, “It’s a good platform, projects like this here, because it opens the door to dialogue. And it is not about selling or giving away anything to appropriate our indigenous communities. It is a celebration.
We also find in the video Canku Thomas One Star, a well-known dancer and the one who appears in the clip of Dior tweeted. “I believe we need more representation of Native Americans in the mainstream media,” he says. “It’s a perfect way to educate and raise awareness. It is a way of showcasing the beautiful cultures that we have.
Sauvage is not a name that Dior created for this campaign either. He first launched the line in 2015. Johnny Depp, who appears in the new campaign, has been its face ever since. (Depp’s involvement in the new campaign is a matter of controversy given his own problematic history with Native American cultures.)
Cultural appropriation has been a touchy subject for fashion brands, which have a long history of drawing ideas and techniques from other cultures under the guise of “inspiration”. Their benefits, however, are rarely shared with their sources. Some argue that this borrowing is just part of how creativity works. But many others point to the undeniable resemblance to colonialist looting, only now it focuses more subtly on intellectual property.
Communities have started to fight back. The Mexican government is engaged in a battle to defend the work of indigenous designers. It has become very clear for brands that they need to make sure to include the communities that inspire them. Too often, they still don’t, leaving people to anger by default when they see an ad like Dior’s.
Critics may argue that Dior’s campaign still offers a narrow portrayal of Indigenous cultures. Native Americans appear there in traditional clothing, for example, while Johnny Depp is dressed as, well, a version of himself and plays guitar for some reason. (To be fair, this is not that unusual among the catalog of notoriously bizarre fragrance ads.) Dior also seems to have had the idea of associating Native American imagery first with a scent called Sauvage, and then researched some consultants thereafter. The concept remains that of the brand. Above all, Dior uses this imagery to sell a product. We have reached out to Dior for comment and will update this story with any response.
But you could also argue that Dior’s advertising is beneficial for everyone involved because it worked with the community that it wanted to represent. “The objectives of Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) for providing consultation on media productions are to ensure the inclusion of staff, artists, actors, writers, etc. peoples, ”said Laura Harris, executive director of AIO, in a statement after a backlash to the online announcement. “AIO does not speak for all indigenous peoples. We are proud to have successfully achieved our education and inclusion goals for this project with Parfums Christian Dior.
This story has been updated to note that Dior deleted their original Twitter post.